Trail of destruction

| Updated on May 23, 2020

India has learnt to contain cyclone casualties, but needs to take climate adaptation seriously

It has become the norm for an extreme weather episode — flood or cyclone — to pummel at least one region of the country every year, claiming lives and ravaging property, livestock, crops and infrastructure. With the country struggling to cope with the spread of Covid-19 and its socio-economic fallout, Cyclone Amphan could not have struck at a worse time. It has killed over 70 people in West Bengal, and wiped out livelihoods of struggling rural folk. While the West Bengal Chief Minister has estimated the damage at ₹1 lakh crore, an objective assessment by an independent body would be in order. The Prime Minister’s interim grant of ₹1,000 crore is a welcome gesture, but it is unlikely to make a dent. Insurance claims alone are likely to exceed ₹1,000 crore, excluding crop loss. Whether it is the Kerala floods of 2018 and 2019 or the floods last year in northern Karnataka, it is clear that States are forced to beg for funds from the Centre. The Finance Commission must arrive at a credible method to transfer funds to States hit by calamities. Whether it is Covid or Amphan, the politicisation of resource sharing must stop.

However, disaster management has improved over the last two decades, with supercyclones claiming fewer lives over time. Improvements in weather mapping and forecasting have enabled rescue teams to evacuate people from vulnerable zones in time. Cyclone Fani hit Odisha last May, matching Amphan in its fury, but the casualties were not alarming when compared to the 1999 supercyclone. Andhra Pradesh, too, is no stranger to cyclones and has learnt to deal with it. However, what is often missed out is the lasting trauma of disruption — of life and even dignity.

With global warming raising sea levels and temperatures, the frequency of supercyclones and floods has increased the world over. A sea temperature of above 26 degrees Centigrade creates conditions for a cyclonic depression, which whips up high wind speeds and dumps phenomenal quantities of rain. The US was wracked by three hurricanes — Harvey, Irma and Maria — in 2017 alone. Scientists have pointed to the possible link between global warming, deforestation and the outbreak of new disease strains — besides pests that thrive in long spells of drought. The developed world must address the climate adaptation needs of tropical countries, meeting its obligations towards the Green Climate Fund. In September last year, India estimated a requirement of $206 billion between 2015 and 2030 (at 2014-15 prices) to protect farming and fisheries. Climate finance has become a life-and-death matter.

Published on May 22, 2020

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