Sunday, 2 December 2012

Opinion: Protect mangroves to protect estuarine ecology, people

By Syed Akbar
India has come a long way since the devastating super cyclone that hit
the AP coast on November 19, 1977 leaving a trail of death and
destruction. Thirty-five years have passed since, and India, now
grapping with the cyclonic storm Nilam, could considerably bring down
the damage to human life and property. The last four decades have
witnessed a sea change in India’s meteorological outlook.

While in the face of Nature’s intense fury, limits of human
intervention are easily exposed as we saw in the US a few days ago,
preparedness and technological upgradation do help save lives. Thanks
to its scientific planning both at laboratory and field levels it has
now emerged as a regional power in cyclone and tsunami early warning
systems.

Statistics tell the success story of India’s fast growth in the field
of weather forecast. When the super cyclone accompanied by a huge
tidal wave hit parts of the East Coast in 1977, India did not have the
scientific information or technological expertise on storm forecast
and disaster management. The result was more than 10,000 human and
one-lakh animal deaths with about 40 lakh people rendered homeless.
The Orissa super cyclone of October1999 was another instance of
Nature’s fury.

The huge loss to life in these super storms forced the Centre to
strengthen the early warning system. Today, the loss is successfully
contained thanks to officials, backed by early warning bulletins
issued by Cyclone Warning Directorate, swinging into action to
evacuate people from low-lying areas. India’s success at mitigating
human suffering from cyclonic storms can be recognised from the Nilam
experience. Nilam also showed the effective coordination between early
warning system and disaster management.

India with a vast seacoast cannot avoid natural events like cyclones
and tsunamis. It can however, certainly ensure that these events do
not turn into calamities, and bring misery and suffering to people.
The Bay of Bengal is a danger zone. It gave birth to nine of the top
10 destructive cyclonic storms in recent human memory. This makes the
job of Indian meteorologists even more challenging. Though we could
predict the cyclonic storms, the rate of accuracy needs to be further
pruned. This will help in zeroing on the exact spot of cyclone
crossing the coast and in turn reduce unnecessary suffering to people,
who are not likely to be affected.

On the technological side, we have reached many a milestone. We should
now look at the ground reality. Most of the cyclone shelters are in
dilapidated condition. The coastal road corridor connecting all
coastal villages is still a pipe dream. The proposed corridor would
help in fast movement of people and relief. Coastal hamlets also lack
in radio communication network. Other coastal States should emulate
Andhra Pradesh in raising Casuarina trees and strengthening the mangrove

forests, wherever possible, to reduce the impact of cyclonic winds blowing at high speeds.

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