India's post-cylone response: What's next?

An imagery from the Elektro–L meteorological satellite depicting cyclone Phailin striking India. Photo by: Stuart Rankin / CC BY-NC

Disaster preparedness efforts didn’t go unrewarded in India, which over the weekend endured one of the strongest cyclones in its history. Many lives were saved, with the death toll standing in the low 20s.

That’s the “good” news.

The bad news: Cyclone Phailin affected almost 9 million people and left some $394 million worth of material damage in its wake.

“The challenges right now are logistical. Communication lines are still difficult in some of the more remote villages and many highways are blocked,” Impuri Ngayawon World Vision India’s spokesperson, told Devex. “The government is clearing the highways and roads into villages, of uprooted trees and electricity poles. The clearing of debris block road accessibility is expected to be complete within the next two days.”

Oxfam India has reported that almost 80 percent of the evacuated people, mostly from the Khurda district in Odisha, have returned to their homes from cyclone shelters.

The magnitude of the damage underscores the importance of smooth coordination between humanitarian organizations and the government. Later today, the Indian government is expected to release a rapid assessment report.

“In such a large-scale relief and rehabilitation effort, all aid agencies must work together with the government to ensure that there is no duplication of work and no vulnerable communities are left out, geographically or demographically,” Ngayawon said.

Aid agencies are also now mulling how to fund the rehabilitation efforts.

World Vision, for instance, plans to seek funds to rebuild houses and livelihoods. According to Ngayawon, some 200,000 houses were damage in the Ganjam district of Orrisa alone. The group hasn’t disclosed details about possible funding models and sources.

The challenge, however, is how to raise those funds, especially as the attention toward the disaster appears to be fleeting.

“With the low number of human casualties, the media was already shifting their focus by mid-day Sunday,” Ngayawon said. “This can have a highly detrimental effect on fundraising efforts for the long period of rehabilitation.”

That said, the low death count suggests that India took seriously the lessons learned from previous similar events — such as the 1999 supercyclone Paradip, which claimed 10,000 lives — observers say.

Adam Poulter, CARE Australia’s humanitarian manager, said in a statement: “Being prepared for disasters save lives. Communities knew far earlier of the oncoming storm and the authorities were able to provide clear instructions about what to do and where to go.”

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About the author

  • Lean Alfred Santos

    Lean Alfred Santos is a former Devex development reporter focusing on the development community in Asia-Pacific, including major players such as the Asian Development Bank and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. He previously covered Philippine and international business and economic news, sports and politics.