The impact of cyclone Phailin, that struck Odisha on 12 October 2013, was not limited to Gopalpur, in Ganjam district where it made landfall, but was felt across 17 districts of the state as well affecting 10 million people. In the days that followed, heavy rain caused floods in the 10 major river systems and cyclone-affected districts.
The Super Cyclone that struck Odisha in 1999 resulted in the death of nearly 10,000 people. This time the State Government took advance steps to ensure the evacuation of people from vulnerable locations in the districts that were likely to be impacted. In the largest pre-disaster evacuation ever undertaken in the country, close to a million people were evacuated to safe shelters. This included 850,000 people in Odisha and 150,000 in neighbouring Andhra Pradesh. Forty four deaths were reported but this remained significantly lower than compared to disasters of similar magnitude.
This was possible because of the efforts of the State Government, which has been in ‘preparation mode’, since the 1999 cyclone. In response to the 1999 super cyclone, the State Government set up the Odisha State Disaster Management Authority (OSDMA), the first state level agency, in India, focused exclusively on disaster management. The state has also been investing in building cyclone shelters, planning evacuation routes and strengthening coastal embankments. Mock drills have been conducted each year in Odisha’s coastal districts. Communities have also come to respect and act according to instructions issued by the OSDMA and state authorities in an emergency.
The Government of India and United Nations Development Programme project on disaster risk management was implemented in 16 districts in Odisha by the OSDMA between 2002 and 2009.3 Working with communities, civil society organizations (CSOs) members of panchayati raj institutions (PRIs) as well as government officials on disaster preparedness, the DRM programme worked towards reducing vulnerability to disasters through improving the capacities of communities to respond to crisis.
The strength of disaster mitigation and management depends on the level of community involvement. In Odisha, this civic engagement proved to be an asset in coping with the Phailin storm.
This document presents the findings of a study conducted to collate evidence of how interventions in disaster preparedness helped the Government in responding to cyclone Phailin.4 It also examines the contribution of UNDP and its programmes in Odisha between 2002 and 2012, to identify gaps and make recommendations to further strengthen response to a disaster.
In doing so, the study suggests that there are many lessons on disaster preparedness and community participation that can be learnt from the Odisha experience that are highly relevant for India and other countries in the world.