India's Phailin: System was the hero

IBNLive Blog - Oct 14, 2013

The nature of being a journalist or columnist is to introspect and look at the 'other side' of any particular situation. As such the loopholes of a system are more prominent than the achievements of the same system. However, there are times, one need to stand up and appreciate what the system does. Cyclone Phailin was a point in case.

The cyclone was one of the most serious cyclones that this region has ever seen. It was estimated to have a landfall of 200 km/h and it was expected to cover almost the entire eastern coastline across Odisha and Andhra Pradesh. The cyclone was an extension of another cyclone in Thailand and turned towards India due warm water conditions in the Bay of Bengal. All of this would have been havoc in the India of yesteryear. A similar cyclone devastated the Eastern coastline in 1999 with similar speeds and covered a similar breadth of coastline. So what has changed so much? A plenty of positive things:

Technology has leaped ahead:
1999 seemed liked another era ago. The cyclone was named the Orissa Cyclone since the usage of names for cyclone was not used at that time. At that time, technology was nascent compared to today. Today, in the day of rapid technology, one can track the exact timing of the cyclone and the exact spot where it is likely to touch the shores. As a columnist tweeted in a succinct manner "Real time images from a satellite to a computer to my mobile phone in moments. And 110 years ago, we didn't have planes." The power of technology was all there to see and even the residents of these areas in the coastal belts were privy to it. Everyone with a phone, albeit a smart phone, was able to gauge the extent of cyclone and was aware that they needed to be protected. This awareness with the aid of technology was a massive enabler in ensuring the cyclone's impact was lesser.

Swift and efficient administration:
One thing was abundantly clear at least from the television visuals that was seen. The Odisha administration this time around was spot on and seemed to have learned their lessons from the 1999 episode. Almost 9 lakh people were evacuated from the affected areas, the entire Eastern Army command was put on alert, the NDMA reached the spot 2 days earlier and the disaster management was systematic according to many observers. One UNDP (U.N. Development Programme) observer has been quoted as saying "A lot has been learnt since 1999 and my guess is that while there could be extensive damage to property and crops, the death toll will be much less". The camps were in place and were pasted all over so that people are aware about it and the babus were tirelessly efficient. While we often get to bemoan the babu's for their inefficiency, in this case their sacrifices saved thousands of lives. Even though the NDMA were on the spot this time, the support system provided by the state government would have helped save many more lives.

Role of the media:
For all its flaws, the media lapped onto the story with swiftness and latched onto it in remarkable time. This ensured that the news was on all day and this medium penetrated into the states and across the countryside to create more awareness to urge people to be more aware. While it was debatable on the impact of such media exposure, it indeed could have also triggered the governments to be more accountable and could have also urged them to do better work. The communication lines were open, the social media was buzzing in a positive manner and that was a big change post the 1999 cyclone.

The result of all these has been for all to see. The number of casualties is almost none compared to the 10,000 odd the last time around. The number of people caught unawares is barely any compared to the last time around. More importantly, the number of administrators who were well equipped and prepared seemed to be aplenty compared to the situation in 1999. To put things in context, in 1999, it took almost 10 days for power to come back to normalcy, now it is being done within 24 to 48 hours in all areas.

The efforts of the administration and the innumerable babu's and the government agencies have been remarkable. These people inspire and provide hope in the idea of India.

Its time we heaped praise on their efforts, for once at least.

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