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Biparjoy’ is a Bengali word which means disaster. This Cyclone disaster that scraped off a 325 Km long coastline extending from the Mandvi in Gujarat to Karachi in Pakistan is finally calming down during landfall in Gujarat.While it was perilous, it was relatively less in speed and volume than the Odisha’s Super Cyclone of 1999 and Fani of 2019. These two earlier Cyclones had wiped off the land of all its trees, roads and electric poles yet in the twenty years interregnum between the two was a gestation time for immense learning for the Odisha Ste Disaster Management Authority due to which the death toll could be brought down from 10,000 to 50 only. Animals, whom we call non-humans or other-humans in a sensitive expression of respect are incalculable both in dead count or those injured but an anthropogenic frame of disaster management accepts it as inevitable rather than avoidable.

Every Cyclone reminds a few forgotten lessons to decision makers. Notwithstanding, India’s hardworking and knowledgeable disaster experts with voluminous experience, the outdated ‘spoils system’, referred to as a ‘patronage system’ in bureaucracy decides whom to take. Why and how this happens will be dealt with in my other blog as right now the focus and concern is the Biparjoy.

Five essentials of Cyclone management are reiterated and brought back to memory;

  1. Region/ area based approach to preparedness in Cyclone management: Last 10-12 years it is becoming obvious that unlike their nature to the contrary Arabian Sea is gradually becoming warmer and Bay of Bengal cooler. Therefore, these Cyclones have mostly shifted from the east coast to the west coast. A Cyclone to be formed requires an approximate 26 degrees C of sustained temperature to a depth of around 60 meters. The temperature rise in the Arabian Sea has been from 1.2 degree C to 1.4 degree C. This has shifted most Cyclones from the Bay of Bengal (now shows 8% decrease in Cyclones) to the Arabian Sea (now shows 52% rise in Cyclones).This has not been happening for a day or a few years but almost a decade and a half. Wasn’t it expected of Gujarat SDMA to have noticed that change? Or, that the States at the Western Ghats which are already so fragile such as Gujarat, Maharastra, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Goa and Kerala should have identified the risk, planned and prepared to these climate change related eventualities with appropriate management of their State Disaster Management Authority. The best science through satellite imagery, IMD, remote sensing and GPS is ignored when its nap time of the Rip Van Winkle. Shamefully, they can have a ‘do or die’ opinion on their right to cling and hang over the horns of clueless bulls, flag march to Courts for their right to kill dogs and to force entry to Sabarimala but not a wink on their own mutilation through official negligence, irresponsibility and oversight. Advantage government, if despite high literacy that’s the electorate it rules!

  2. Previous knowledge to be kept on top of the preparedness agenda:It is part of a scientific discussion that there is a 30 year cycle for Cyclones in the Arabian Sea. Therefore Cyclones are imminent why turn habitats into war zones, stay prepared. BUT the BIG QUESTION: Who is going to ‘Bell the Growling Cat’ for this?

  3. International collaboration is the key to a cost effective Cyclone management: This Cyclone once again brings to surface a fundamental idea that political boundaries melt during most disasters in South Asia as geography unites. We share the same geo-seismic currents, weather dependence, climate and time zones and our political feet are deep inside Indo-Gangetic plains, Deccan Plateau and Karakoram-Himalaya region. Yet we have ignored and thrown away a meaningfully prepared agreement SAARC Agreement on Rapid Response to Natural Disasters of 2011 which has varieties of arrangements for resilience building. This ought to return on the table of the Prime Minister.

  4. Investment if Disaster Risk Reduction need to be more appropriately meaningful: The total frequency of global disasters in 2021 was 13% higher and 82% more in direct economic losses even though deaths were lower. The direct economic losses due to Storm/Cyclone Disasters were the largest reaching 137.7 b., 133% more than a historical average.(Global Natural Disaster Assessment Report 2021). This calls for a mission driven investment in preparedness or disaster risk reduction. The Global Assessment Report 2015 from UNDRR clearly mentioned that USD 6 b. investment
    in DRR can help achieve risk reduction benefits to a substantial USD 360 b. India has significantly increased this investment then which are the sectors where this money being invested. Are there shelters for humans, elderly, women? Are there safe areas identified and built for stray animals? Are there grain and other food storage godowns? Are ambulances and medical support available to people? How safe are schools and other building if turned into shelters? These questions are not answered in much details.
  5. The exercises towards resilience building for business, corporates and Micro, Small, Medium enterprises: There is only one disaster management plan of 2017 which speaks about business resilience building. It has been prepared by the Ministry of Corporate Affairs. While the key regulatory Acts related to Companies, Contracts and Competition have been detailed out , there is a disproportionate details of the Ministry’s structure and laws but a miniscule section dedicated to disasters, which does not perceive, nor understand and suggest appropriately solutions to business losses due to disasters and how could they bounce back. The Plan fails to clarify even the basic questions surrounding the Force majeure clause which is included in contracts to remove liability for enforceable and unavoidable catastrophes that interrupt the expected course of events. This clause covers all forms of disasters but had raised many questions during the pandemic period when MSME sector was almost completely devastated in many areas. Such Reports which are cut/paste of their annual reports are a futile loss of time and government money.  India and Pakistan have together evacuated more than 1,70,000 people, two most important Indian ports of Kandla and Mundra face serious losses due to stoppage of work and Cyclone damages. Can focus on preparedness be invested in??

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