Cyclone Ockhi was a wakeup call for Kerala. It is time for us to stop the blame game and for the government and the civil society to devise plans to prepare for such natural disasters on a war footing.
About 10,000 people died in a cyclone in Odisha in 1999. In 2013, only less than 10 people died even though the cyclone blew at a devastating speed of 210 kilometer per hour. That year, a warning was sent out five days ahead of the event and about 5 lakh people were shifted to safer locations. Odisha had already rebuilt all its coastal schools in such a way as to withstand a cyclone.
The eastern state offers invaluable lessons for Kerala. The government and society have to work in tandem towards that goal. We have to drop our notion that Kerala is beyond the reach of natural calamities. Natural phenomena become disastrous when we are not prepared.
We cannot let a natural phenomenon become disastrous because we were not warned. We still do not have sufficient technology to forecast earthquakes and lightning. We cannot even forecast a cyclone with perfection, as we now know.
We have to ensure that warnings are reached the places likely to be affected. We have to use all available media for that.
The government has to launch a campaign to create awareness about the disasters among the public. We have to introduce satellite-based technology to communicate with fishermen who ventured far into the sea. We also need to ensure that fishermen are using sufficient safety measures.
Kerala has to strengthen its disaster management authority, renewing the disaster relief plans at the state and district levels in a scientific manner. We have to focus on preventive measures. We need plans specific for any scenario and a mechanism to coordinate information from central and state agencies.
The Kerala government should also take action to strengthen the state’s disaster management force in the model of the National Disaster Response Force.
As soon as the rescue operations are wound up, the state government should consult the global experts in the field to chart out the future course, so that it does not repeat its mistakes and ensure that the state has a scientific preparedness plan.
(The writer has served as a Union agriculture secretary and a member of the National Disaster Management Authority between 2010 and 2014.)