When Will Power Stronger Than A Hurricane Worked For Saving And Protecting Precious Lives
Bhubaneswar: It was on this day in 2013 that the Extremely Severe Cyclonic Storm Phailin hit the Odisha coast over Gopalpur and wrecked havoc as the most intense tropical cyclone to make landfall in India since the 1999 Odisha Super Cyclone. The otherwise known as Category Five Tropical Cyclone – Phailin holds the most important lessons for the whole of the world and India in particular. The management of the cyclone and the consequent relief and rescue operations became a case study for others and set a new benchmark in Disaster Management. Today, when we look back at the past two decades, we have before us Odisha’s transition from a state that was most affected by the natural disasters to a state that is most prepared to face them. This transformation could be achieved in this short span of time because of the genuine intentions of the state government led by Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik and the unwavering commitment of the administrations involved. With an aim to achieve zero causality and minimum destruction to property, the Odisha Government developed a resilient disaster management mechanism that still holds as the best in the world.
The journey of Odisha’s transformation that began in the aftermath of the Super Cyclone in 1999 saw its biggest test in the form of cyclone Phailin in 2013. Odisha’s management of this Cyclone is regarded as the most successful one in the world in the near past. Years of meticulous planning and exhaustive ground works helped Odisha to spectacularly reduce the number of deaths and minimize the loss to property. Odisha evacuated about a million people before the landfall of Cyclone Phailin – the highest ever emergency evacuation in the country for disaster management. The coordinated efforts of the OSDMA, Revenue and Disaster Management Department, Ganjam District Administration and the Meteorological Department augmented well and it saw a complete textbook operation. Record numbers of people were shifted to the safe Cyclone shelters and safer buildings in record time resulting in massive decrease in the number of casualties. The government made provisions for over 4,000 free kitchens where sufficient stock of dry foods, food grains and water made available. In total, 185 medical teams were deployed to all affected areas and 338 medical centers were set up in emergency. The ODRAF, District Authorities, Local Authorities, National Disaster Response Force, Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), Odisha State Armed Police (OSAP), Fire Services and the Indian Air Force(IAF) were mobilized for the relief and rescue operations. All major roads affected by the cyclone were cleared within 24 hours of the landfall. At the ground level in Ganjam, the efforts of the District Administration which turned it into a successful mission were led by Dr Krishan Kumar, the then District Collector.
What played the most important role in the management of Phailin is the war room like crisis resolution. Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik was in continuous touch with the officials responsible for the management of the Cyclone such as the State Relief Commissioner, Police, District Collector, officials of the Revenue and Disaster Management Department and the Center including the Prime Minister. V K Pandian, Private Secretary to CM Naveen Patnaik was instrumental in the flawless coordination of the various departments during the biggest natural disaster of the time.
Odisha government’s efforts in identifying safe buildings, construction of new cyclone shelters, planned evacuation routes, evacuation protocols and improved coastal embankments helped in minimizing the impact of Phailin. The most important aspect of this exercise was the community participation. The Revenue and Disaster Management Department was fully prepared to handle the situation with men and material.
The management of the Phailin became one of the best chapters in India’s disaster management. The United Nations too recognized Odisha’s efforts and commended Odisha Government for the management of cyclone Phailin. The UN Special Representative of the UN Secretary General (SRSG) for Disaster Risk Reduction Margareta Wahlström spoke to Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik and said “Odisha’s handling of the very severe cyclone will be a landmark success story in disaster management.” The state government almost achieved its mission zero casualty.
The more the cyclones try to shake the morale of the government, the more the Odisha Government takes them as new challenges and turns them into opportunities to get stronger. Today Odisha is the leading state in disaster management and it has the wherewithal to face the disasters. This transformation could be possible only due to the will power of the leadership that is stronger than the cyclones.