Latest estimates from the Government of India indicate that over 12 million people have been directly affected by a ferocious cyclone that struck the East coast of India on the weekend of the 12th of October. As the intensity of Cyclone Phailin developed off the coast of Bengal, a mass evacuation of close to a million people in the states of Odisha and Adhra Pradesh took place, as parallels were drawn with a devastating super-cyclone that hit the same region 14 years earlier.
Comparisons with the 1999 event continued in the immediate aftermath of the storm and investments in disaster risk reduction (DRR), alongside the successful evacuation, have been heralded as saving many lives in the region. While both events affected a similar number of people (over 12 million), 46 fatalities have been reported so far following Cyclone Phailin, in contrast to the loss of over 10,000 lives during Cyclone Orissa in 1999.
Figure 1: Total number of people affected by Cyclone Phailin with number of people affected by storms in 1999
Source: Data for 1999 come from EMDAT CRED. Figures for Cyclone Phailin based on initial government estimates
Figure 2: The reported number of fatalities associated with Cyclone Phailin compared with total number of deaths by storms in 1999
Source: Data for 1999 comes from EMDAT CRED. Figures for Cyclone Phailin come from IFRC operation update 21 October 2013
India’s exposure to natural hazards make it one of the most disaster-prone countries in the world. Close to 85% of the country is vulnerable to at least one hazard including flooding, droughts, cyclones and earthquakes (India Disaster Knowledge Network). In the last ten years over 106 million people in India have been affected by natural disasters – China is the only country in the world that ranks higher (EMDAT CRED).
With a high proportion of India’s growing population exposed to natural hazards and their detrimental impact on local economies, livelihoods and poverty, effective DRR is imperative. This year the Indian government established a national platform for disaster risk reduction, demonstrating a growing recognition that disaster management is an area of vital national importance.
Following the devastating impact of the 1999 cyclone in Odisha and Andhra Pradesha, local government officials and aid agencies instigated steps to improve the region’s disaster preparedness capacity (for more information read Nitha Bhalla’s article on how a prepared India saved lives during a monster storm). For example, disaster management departments were established in both states, hundreds of cyclone shelters were built and emergency planning procedures were implemented, including regular evacuation drills.
In recent years a number of DRR projects in the region have been funded by the international community, including:
- National Cyclone Risk Mitigation Project (NCRMP) costing US$255 million and financed by the World Bank that aimed to reduce coastal communities’ vulnerability to cyclones and other hydro metrological hazards;
- Building disaster-resilient communities in flood-affected states of Bihar, Orissa, and West Bengal with a focus on protection of children in emergencies. A Save the Children programme working in partnership with a number of civil society organisations (CSOs) since 2009 has focussed on protecting children during emergencies, helping them prepare for emergencies and providing livelihood support;
- Disaster Management Task Forces have been established by Christian Aid in partnership with a number of local NGOs that have been working with coastal communities to strengthen disaster preparedness in Odisha and Andhra Pradesh.
Investing time and finances in improving disaster preparedness capacity has clearly paid off in the wake of Cyclone Phailian and saved many lives.
A new report from the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) analyses the impact disasters have on creating and exacerbating poverty. The report combines projections of poverty, climate and disasters with an assessment of country-level Disaster Risk Management (DRM) capacities to analyse the future distribution of the extreme poor and their exposure and vulnerability to disasters.
Detailed sub-national analysis of India in the ODI report identifies the northeast of the country (including Odisha) as an area that, by 2030, is likely to have high exposure to natural hazards in combination with high rates of poverty. Effective DRM is essential for these regions. The report acknowledges DRM capacities can improve over time even in poorer regions and the lessons learnt in Odisha in 1999 combined with improvements in early warning and disaster planning clearly highlight this. However, the report also calls for DRR efforts to focus on strengthening livelihoods alongside saving lives, stating that “social safety nets should receive the same attention as early warning systems”(ODI 2013).
While the relatively low loss of life has been a significant achievement, the trail of destruction in the days following the storm is still likely to have a major impact on livelihoods in the region. The latest International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent (IFRC) operation update (21 October 2013) estimates that the cyclone has directly affected 20 districts, 18,462 villages and approximately 12 million people. Close to 300,000 houses have been damaged or destroyed and 625,408 hectares of standing crops have been obliterated, costing an estimated US$394 million. With vital assets destroyed and disruption caused from temporary displacement, the long-term impact on livelihoods, particularly amongst the regions poorest people, is not yet known.
The continued severity and destruction caused by events such as Cyclone Phailin highlights the growing need for investment in effective DRR. In the wake of the cyclone the Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh announced the need for DRR to be mainstreamed in all of the country’s development programmes, and for policies to recognise and prioritise the need for disaster preparedness.
While the importance of strengthening populations’ resilience to disasters is widely recognised by national governments and the international community, investments in DRR and preparedness continue to be underfunded and poorly reported. The GHA programme’s analysis (Spending where it should count and Aid investments in DRR –rhetoric to action) on the levels of DRR financing in international aid highlights the relatively low investment priority that appears to be given to DRR.
A recent report from ODI and the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery (GFDRR) analysing DRR financing over a twenty year period found that just 0.4% of the total amount spent on international aid went to DRR related activities. The report recognises a notable increase in DRR financing in recent years and acknowledges the positive steps and investments in DRR that have been made by a number of governments domestically, often considerably more than international DRR assistance going to the same country.
“Averages of available data suggest that the Philippines government is investing 20 times more than the international community in DRR and the government of Indonesia almost 10 times more.” (ODI/GFDRR 2013)
There are several reporting issues that make quantifying and understanding donor investments in DRR difficult, and reliable data available for national spending is even harder to come by. To assess the effectiveness of DRR funding there is a need to better understand what investments are being made and the relationship between national and international sources.