Opinion

Centre-State coordination is key in mitigating impact of cyclones

Cyclones adversely affect not only the different sectors of the economy but also build fiscal pressure on the Central and State governments’ resources

Cyclone Amphan, which made a big landfall on May 20, 2020 in the coastal area of West Bengal, caused widespread damage to the physical infrastructure, killed 86 people in the State and affected more than 45 lakh people in Odisha. As per a preliminary report of the Government of West Bengal, 88,000 hectares of paddy, along with one lakh hectares of vegetables and sesame each are damaged, and economic losses amount to more than ₹1 lakh crore at least. Besides, the uprooting of over 5,000 trees in Kolkata would lead to a decline in oxygen levels, thus increasing pollution in the city. There is no gainsaying the fact that Amphan is one of the most intense cyclones that has ever hit both West Bengal and Odisha, with the former bearing most of the brunt.

With the prolonged lockdown necessitated to curb the spread of Covid-19 and already weakening State finances, the double-whammy from Amphan has come as a sudden unanticipated shock to the Bengal economy. The additional measures taken to provide relief to Bengal people apart from the evacuation measures and restoration of transport, electricity, and water supply are likely to generate an additional fiscal burden on the State government. The West Bengal Chief Minister has mentioned that Amphan is a bigger disaster than the coronavirus pandemic.

Cyclone damage

Among the disaster-affected nations of the world, India is the worst-affected. Its geo-climatic and socio-economic conditions are responsible for increasing the frequency of natural disasters and the resulting damages. Every year, though, different parts of India witness many types of natural disasters, but cyclones are the most prevalent one. According to the National Disaster Management Authority, around 5,700 km of the 7,517-km Indian coastline is prone to cyclones and tsunamis. Nearly 66 coastal districts and 14.2 per cent of the population in 13 coastal States/Union Territories are regularly exposed to the fury of the cyclones.

According to the Global Climate Risk Index report 2019, India is the 14th most-vulnerable countries in the world due to extreme weather-related events. Moreover, the report confirms that having lost around 2,736 human lives in 2017 and with economic losses standing at around $13,789 million in PPP terms, India is currently at the second and fourth position in the world in terms of life and financial loss, respectively.

Between 1950 and 2019, around 1,84,147 people were killed, another 2,454 million were affected, and economic losses amounted to $1,06,849 million resulting from 518 different natural disasters (floods, cyclones, drought, earthquake, and landslides) which took place in different parts of India. Per EMDAT data, in terms of frequency of natural disasters, India has experienced the highest number of floods (58 per cent), followed by cyclones (25 per cent), landslides (9 per cent), earthquakes (5 per cent), and droughts (3 per cent) over the same period. The frequent occurrence of natural disasters affects not only human lives but also damages public and private properties. In India, floods are the most lethal disaster, followed by cyclones, landslides, earthquakes, and drought.

Economic impact

Concerning the general nature of the impact of natural disasters, a cyclone is the second most frequent natural disaster in India. India experienced 33 cyclones that killed 12,400 people, affected 55 million, and economic losses stood at ₹95,914 crore over the period 2009-2019 (see Table). The cyclones adversely affect not only the different sectors of the economy but also build fiscal pressure on the Central and State governments’ resources through increased spending in disaster management activities such as evacuation, relief distribution, and rehabilitation.

 

During 2009-2019, India lost around 1.2 per cent of GDP and 8.87 per cent of Central government expenditure due to the natural wrath of cyclones . For instance, India lost about 0.65 per cent of GDP in 1999 alone due to the Odisha super cyclone, which is considered to be the highest GDP loss ever incurred in any cyclone year. The physical damage to infrastructure as a percentage of Central government expenditure broadly followed the same pattern.

Among the coastal States, total population killed due to cyclones was highest in Odisha (9,885) followed by Gujarat (570), Andhra Pradesh (274), Tamil Nadu (171), Kerala (114), Maharashtra (92), and lowest in West Bengal (75) over the period 1999-2018, according to Accidental Deaths & Suicides in India (ADSI).

States’ efforts

Due to the high frequency of cyclones and the resultant need for mitigating its impact, various State governments have prepared a roadmap to handle the crisis in the future. For example, the Odisha government has constructed 809 multipurpose cyclones and flood shelters, in addition to setting up the Odisha Disaster Management Authority (ODMA), coastal shelter-belt plantations, and afforestation measures such as planting of mangroves in coastal districts in the aftermath of the 1999 super cyclone, which severely crippled Odisha. These activities have helped the Government of Odisha to minimise loss of lives from severe cyclonic storms such as Phailin, Hudhudand, Fani, and Amphan, which have hit the coastal State over the years.

Based on the Indian authorities’ incredible disaster management effort, the UN agency has praised the Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) for providing early warnings to people. This has helped the local authorities to conduct a timely evacuation plan and minimise the loss of human lives in the face of the severe cyclonic storm, Fani.

Apart from the National Disaster Management Plan, asper a 2019 article, published in the Environment and Development Economics by Yashobanta Parida, robust Centre-State political coordination is essential for mitigating disaster impact in Indian States. In sum, we suggest that in the face of frequent cyclones in West Bengal, the State government should initiate a coordinated approach and apply some of the disaster management measures undertaken by the Government of Odisha. In particular, to cope with the impact of future cyclones in West Bengal, it is essential to set up an extensive disaster management plan, and create cyclone risk mitigation infrastructure, particularly in the cyclone-prone districts.

Finally, the need for establishing good political relations with the Centre cannot be over-emphasised, especially in the current milieu, for alleviating the negative impact on the State in a post-Amphan setting.

Parida is Research Fellow, Verghese Kurien Centre of Excellence, IRMA, Gujrat; Roy Chowdhury is Visiting Assistant Professor of Economics at Hobart and William Smith Colleges, New York; and Bhardwaj is an independent researcher based in New Delhi. Views are personal

Published on June 01, 2020

Follow us on Telegram, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and Linkedin. You can also download our Android App or IOS App.

This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor