As Sri Lanka is drying itself out after yet another disaster, people are beginning to ask what went wrong and what could be done better in the future. Some of the comments are not fair, for example the comparison of the Bangladesh and Sri Lanka responses, but most are useful. Every disaster must be treated as a learning opportunity. First, let’s get the Bangladesh comparison out of the way. Once a cyclone forms, its track can be seen from satellites.
Yesterday, I was talking with an Indian colleague who was involved in improving the Indian weather information system based on INSAT while working for the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO). The trigger had been the devastating cyclone that hit Andhra Pradesh in 1977. This was also related to initiating my interest in disaster early warning because that cyclone was supposed to hit the East Coast of Sri Lanka, but veered away at the last minute. I remember tracking news of its journey while working at the Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation. One year later the cyclone did not change track and we lost over 900 people on the East Coast.
We complain every time early warning is not given or false warnings/evacuation orders are issued. But praise must be given when right action is taken and lives are saved. Indian authorities are to be praised. Witnesses in Chennai and Pondicherry said trees had been toppled, there had been power outages throughout the night and disruption to phone and internet services in some areas. Hundreds of people from fishing communities along north Tamil Nadu’s coast, and neighbouring Andhra Pradesh state, have moved to schools set up as relief centres until the weather system passes.
The victims of cyclone in Bangladesh are poorest among the poor. Their views about effective warning system “lacks credibility” to the concerned bodies.But it is a real bad news when the merchant mariners have slammed Bangladesh Meteorological Department (BMD) for suddenly raising the cyclone’s severity within an hour. It clearly demonstrates the BMD’s professional incompetence. Reuters provides the chilling details.

Cyclone casualties in Bangladesh

Posted on November 16, 2007  /  6 Comments

It appears that early warning and evacuation were effective in coastal Bangladesh. With so much attention focused on tsunamis, it is important not to neglect this very real hazard. PS:  Now with reports coming in that deaths will exceed 1000, judgment on the efficacy of warning and evacuation will have to be reserved.   While one death is one too many, we must remember that 300000-500000 died in the 1970 Bhola cyclone which hit, the coast on November 12th.   The fact that casualties will be be counted in the 1000s and not 100,000s is progress.

India prepares for Mass Casualties

Posted on November 14, 2007  /  0 Comments

National Disaster Management Guidelines Released “We all know that India like any other nation in the world has its own share of vulnerability, risk and its capacity to respond to the disasters. The equations of these three factors can be well visualized in some of the worst disasters of the past – the Super Cyclone in Orissa in October 1999, the Bhuj earthquake in January and Tsunami in December 2004. All these revealed the mass casualty potential of natural disasters. ” “The underlying message is whether it is natural or manmade, these disasters have the potential of causing mass casualties and we need to address these issues squarely. We need to adopt multi-disciplinary and multi-sectoral approach for prevention/mitigation strategies so as to develop capacities to improve response.