On May 3, 2019 Cyclone Fani made landfall on the east coast of India, devastating homes and livelihoods. The road of recovery will be a challenging one. However, thanks to effective early warning systems and evacuation protocols established following Cyclone Odisha in 1999, loss of life was minimal. These successes illustrate the value of learning from disaster events to build resilience. At the same time, Fani’s impact on livelihoods clearly identifies the next priority for adaptive learning.
On May 3 2019, Cyclone Fani made landfall near the city of Puri, on the east coast of India. Fani was the strongest cyclone to hit the area in 20 years and brought with her 125 mph winds, driving rain, and storm surge of up to 13 feet. Fani caused widespread destruction, particularly in the state of Odisha. However, thanks to a strong disaster management plan and quick and effective response, loss of life was limited.
An early warning and evacuation success story
In 1999, Cyclone Odisha devastated communities along the coast of the State of Odisha and killed over 10,000 people. To assure future such events were “zero-casualty”, the state actively learned from Cyclone Odisha and made improvements in coordination and communication, evacuation plans, and early warning systems. Ultimately, these changes contributed to the successful evacuation of 1.2 million people away from low-lying areas along the coast in advance of Cyclone Fani. As a result, though 64 people lost their lives, loss of life was dramatically minimized in comparison to the 1999 event.
This success story is a testament to the preparation and actions authorities in India took in the days leading up to landfall as well as to the investments made over the last two decades in disaster management planning. Working together with local stakeholders, NGOs, the Indian Red Cross Society, the India Meteorological Department and others, the state of Odisha:
- Built hundreds of cyclone shelters along the coast. These provided safe shelter for evacuees throughout the duration of the storm.
- Pre-identified vulnerable households, pre-staged equipment, and pre-stocked food and water at cyclone shelters.
- Implemented a public warning campaign involving over 2.6 million text messages, and hundreds of volunteers, emergency workers, and local authorities utilizing sirens, loudspeakers, TV and radio.
- Communicated clear, accurate, actionable messages around evacuation and shelter which provided time for citizens to evacuate and instructions about how and where to evacuate to.
- Activated tried and tested channels of disaster communication and response, building upon learning from Cyclone Odisha and other natural hazard events.
- The results of these efforts in terms of loss of life averted speak for themselves and highlight the opportunity disasters present to learn and improve upon current practices.
Lessons learned, but looking forward
Though Cyclone Fani was a success in terms of early warning, it was nonetheless a humanitarian disaster. Three months after the cyclone, relief camps have wound down and media attention has waned, but Fani’s survivors continue the long road to recovery.
Early recovery efforts were successful in restoring water systems and avoiding major disease outbreaks. However, the state is struggling to administer relief to impacted areas and to meet basic needs including power, water and food. In the longer-term, impacts to crops and infrastructure have contributed to the devastation of millions of livelihoods and homes. Tourism, a major industry in Odisha, has lost approximately Rs 732 crore (106 million USD) since the cyclone hit. These impacts are having cascading effects throughout the entire local economy, highlighting the need for increased pre-event mitigation. In particular, a greater focus on protecting livelihoods at the community level, where the impacts of natural hazards are felt most immediately, is clearly needed.
Odisha has learned how to save lives. As they look towards the future, the next step is saving livelihoods. Success here would serve as an example for the entire world.