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  • Writer's pictureAzera Rahman

The cyclone has passed but the storm of destruction continues

Updated: Jul 17, 2021


  • A month after Cyclone Yaas hit Bhadrak in Odisha, people are struggling to cope with its aftermath.

  • This is the fourth cyclone in three years that the local community is recovering from.

  • Though locals say that the cyclones’ frequency has increased, experts say otherwise. Odisha, they however say, is the most vulnerable to cyclonic storms.

  • The social implications of the cyclone that has now long passed, is big, with more vulnerability to health, and exploitation of people at different levels.

More than a month has passed since cyclone Yaas hit the eastern coast in May this year, impacting parts of Odisha, West Bengal, and Jharkhand. Improvement in cyclone prediction system and thereafter a detailed evacuation plan has meant that the casualty figures were kept at a minimum. The aftermath of the disaster, however, has been severe. In the Bhadrak district of Odisha, which was one of the worst-affected by the cyclone, 25-year-old Sukumari Jena and her family of seven have been cooped up in one room for the past month since their house was destroyed by the cyclone. They had barely recovered from the previous year’s cyclone—Amphan—when Yaas struck, taking them back on the road of loss and uncertainty.

An endless cycle of loss

Dinnarsingpur, the coastal village where Sukumari is from, has seen massive losses as a result of the cyclone. Naresh Rout of the non-profit, Pragati Jubak Sangha (PJS), said that 20 of the total 80 houses in the village have been destroyed in the cyclone. “All those destroyed were kuchha (temporary) houses, made of mud,” Rout said.

Sukumari’s was one of them.

“We have spent almost Rs. 6000 in repairing one room of the house,” she said, “The rest of the house is still broken, but we cannot afford to do more repairs now.” The Jena family has seven members — Sukumari, her husband and their son, her mother-in-law, sister-in-law and her two children. Sukumari’s husband, who works as a farmer on a piece of land taken on lease, is the only bread-earner in the family. Their monthly income ranges between Rs. 5,000-Rs 10,000.

Recalling the time the cyclone hit, Sukumari said that they were moved to the cyclone relief centre the day before. “All we took with us was our bundle of official documents, some clothes, and drinking water,” she said. When the family came back home five days later, the village was still flooded with the waters that the tide brought in after the cyclone, and it was raining. Their kuchha house was lying broken, its roof half blown away.

The administration-provided tarpaulin sheets for a tent-like shelter, but it was a temporary arrangement. “Even last year, during Amphan, we suffered losses,” Sukumari said, “But this time it has been more.”

Not just property, loss to agriculture has also been massive as a result of the cyclone. As rainwater breached embankments, saline water from the swollen sea entered agricultural lands, leaving farmers in a fix whether their land will be fertile enough with the heavy salt deposits for the kharif crop. Ashok Majhi, a farmer, who grows paddy on his two-acre land, said that he is now unsure about the fertility of the land. “Maybe the rains will wash away some of the saline deposits,” he said, “The future looks unsure because I don’t know if I will get a good harvest.” The paddy cultivation, he said, will be delayed this year.

Living with cyclones

“We have always lived with floods and cyclones,” Sukumari’s 63-year-old mother-in-law, Debokhi Jena, added in, “but cyclones are coming more frequently now, and the floods have become more severe.”

Sukumari’s mother-in-law, Debokhi Jena. Photo by Naresh Rout, Pragati Jubak Sangha.

With Yaas, this is the third consecutive year that Odisha has been hit by a cyclone. In April 2019, cyclone Fani hit the state; six months later, cyclone Bulbul left its impact. Then in May 2020, it was cyclone Amphan, and a year later, it was Yaas that affected the state. In all these times, the coastal district of Bhadrak has been one of the most-affected. According to Uma Charan Mohanty, a tropical meteorologist with the Indian Institute of Technology, Bhubaneswar, between 1891 and 2018, Odisha has been hit by about 110 cyclones.

While agreeing that the east coast is more vulnerable to cyclones than the west coast, Mrutyunjay Mohapatra, Director General of Meteorology (DGM), India Meteorological Department (IMD), however, said that there has been no change in the frequency or severity of cyclone over the Bay of Bengal.

“Odisha is more prone to cyclonic storms (than other states) and more vulnerable,” Mohapatra told Mongabay-India, “But to establish whether the frequency of cyclones is increasing, the monitoring has to be done over a definite period. Yes, there have been cyclones every year in the last three years, but it cannot be established yet, based on only this period, that the frequency of cyclones has gone up.”

Anil Kumar Gupta of the National Institute of Disaster Management (NIDM) agreed.

There is however no denying the fact that the cyclonic storms have been particularly fierce over certain areas along the east coast, like 24 Paraganas and Midnapore in West Bengal, and Balasore and Bhadrak in Odisha. Some studies have said that the shape of the Bay of Bengal basin is such that it causes a funnelling effect, thereby steering moving cyclones towards the region.

Taking the example of Bhadrak, Mohapatra said, “If you look at the map, Bhadrak is concave towards the sea; this geometrical shape of the coast makes a difference. A cyclone near Vizag in Andhra Pradesh that brings one to two metre-high tidal waves will bring four-metre-high waves in Bhadrak.” In addition to this, the river delta region at Dhamra in the same district—where there is a confluence of two rivers—“helps in sustaining the intensity of cyclones”.

Debabrat Dash of P.J.S., and a local, said that although cyclones have usually been followed by high tidal waves, never had he witnessed such high waves as this time. “It was a saline water invasion,” Dash said. “Ponds and fisheries, farmlands, everything became inundated with saline water.”

One of the reasons why the impact of cyclones has been so high in the coastal areas, said NIDM’s Gupta, is “because these areas are more densely populated now, with more industrial activity”. “The cyclone monitoring system has become very effective, hence people are more responsive in the face of a disaster and there is less loss of lives. However, with more concentration of assets, the property damage is more,” he said.

The varied implications of the storm

The unravelling damage however is not short-term. In areas around where the damage has been maximum, Dash said that there has been a rise in petty crimes, like theft and robbery. “As a result of the ongoing pandemic, most migrant workers from the villages are at home and their earning source has taken a hit,” he said. “This has resulted in lower spending capability on food which has affected health and nutrition; parents are now more likely to get their daughters married at an early age or involve their children in labour. Debts are rising and to clear all that, once things improve, migration will increase manifold. There are many social implications.”

The cyclone may have passed, but the storm is far from over.

Banner image: A month after cyclone Yaas hit Bhadrak in Odisha, people are struggling to cope with its aftermath. Photo by Naresh Rout, Pragati Jubak Sangha.

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