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Tropical cyclone : the timeless nightmare of India

Dr. Vijay Pratap Mall
Associate Professor
Ms. Divya Mall
Delhi University

India has forever been on rock bed cradling many disastrous calamities . It’s Geo-climatic conditions and socio-economic vulnerability of India that makes it one of the most disaster-prone countries. According to a report by National Institute of Disaster Management (NIDM) and Forest Research Institute (FRI), – 59per cent area is prone to earthquakes, 28 per cent to droughts, 25 per cent to landslides, 12 per cent to floods, 8 per cent to cyclones and 50 per cent of the forest area is prone to forest fire;Cyclone being on of the most frequent and disastrous. India currently holds the largest bay in the world with a population of 500 million living on coastal rim , demarcated by 13 coastal states/Union Territories encompassing 84 coastal districts which are affected by cyclones.
The western coastal states are: Gujarat, Maharashtra, Goa, Karnataka and Kerala. The eastern coastal states are: Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Orissa and West Bengal.
– The 4 union territories lying on the coast-line are: Daman & Diu, Puducherry,

What are cyclones?
Cyclones are rapid inward air circulation around a low-pressure area. The air circulates in an anticlockwise direction in the Northern hemisphere and clockwise in the Southern hemisphere. They are usually accompanied by violent storms and bad weather. The word Cyclone is derived from the Greek word ‘Cyclos’ meaning the coils of a snake. It was coined by Henry Paddington because the tropical storms in the Bay of Bengal and the Arabian Sea appear like coiled serpents of the sea.The highest 3 minutes surface wind occurring within the circulation of the system is called maximum sustained wind.
There are two type of cyclones-
. Tropical cyclones
. Temperate cyclones

Tropical Cyclones
These are one of the most devastating natural calamities in the world. They are violent storms that originate over oceans in tropical areas and move over to the coastal areas bringing about large scale destruction caused by violent winds, very heavy rainfall and storm surges.Tropical cyclones originate and intensify over warm tropical oceans. The conditions favourable for the formation and intensification of tropical storms are:
– Large sea surface with temperature higher than 27° C.
– Presence of the Coriolis force.
– Small variations in the vertical wind speed.
– A pre-existing weak low- pressure area or low-level-cyclonic circulation.
– Upper divergence above the sea level system

IMD(Indian Metrological Department) in its report quoted-
“Tropical Cyclone can be compared to a heat engine. The energy input is from warm water and humid air over tropical oceans. Release of heat is through condensation of water vapour to water droplets/rain. Only a small percentage (3%) of this released energy is converted into Kinetic energy to maintain cyclone circulation (Winfield). A mature cyclone releases energy equivalent to that of 100 hydrogen bombs.”
The tropical cyclones in india generally hit on both the coasts majorly
– Arabian Sea coast
– Bay of Bengal coast

The Arabian Sea coast-
This coast majorly covers states like Maharashtra, Gujarat, Kerala, Karnataka, Goa.
This coast is considered to be a passive one . The cyclone strike ratio of Arabian coast to Bay of Bengal coast is 1:4. However past few years the Indian Metrological Department saw a rise in the activities breaking a 119 year old record from one major cyclone hitting one each year to 5 in 2019; reasons of which are explained later in the article.
The deadliest ones on this coast were gonu(2007),Nisarga(2020), megh(2015), okchi(2017).
Bay of Bengal coast
This branch majorly hits West Bengal, Orrisa, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana.
This is considered to be one the most active coastline of Indian mass .
The Bay of Bengal, notes historian Sunil Amrith,
“An expanse of tropical water: still and blue in the calm of January winter, or raging and turbid at the peak of the summer rains”.
This coast is shallow, concave and is warm than the other coasts make it ideal for intense cyclonic activity.
The infamous cyclones on the coast include Amphan(2020), Nargis (1999), Bhola(1970).
The deadliest one being Bhola(1970) killing half a million people.
Naming of the cyclones-
According to India Metrological Department (IMD),
‘practice of naming tropical cyclones began years ago in order to help in the quick identification of storms in warning messages because names are presumed to be far easier to remember than the numbers and technical terms.’
There is a strict procedure in place to determine a list of tropical cyclone names in any ocean basin the names must be short and readily understood when broadcast and must be culturally sensitive and not convey some unintended and potentially inflammatory meaning. There are various ‘tropical cyclone regional bodies’ assigned for the purpose like ESCAP/WMO Typhoon Committee,WMO/ESCAP Panel on Tropical Cyclones,RA I Tropical Cyclone Committee,RA IV Hurricane Committee,RAV Tropical Cyclone Committee.
After long deliberations among the member countries, the naming of the tropical cyclones over north Indian Ocean commenced from September 2004 by The The Regional Specialised Meteorological Centre (RSMC) of Tropical Cyclones in New Delhi. It also had the responsibility of issuing weather outlooks and tropical cyclone advisories for the countries in the WMO/ESCAP Panel region bordering the Bay of Bengal and the Arabian Sea.
Bodies for controlling cyclones in India Central institutes and plans
– The National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA)
It is the apex statutory body for disaster management in India.primary purpose is to coordinate response to natural or man-made disasters and for capacity-building in disaster resiliency and crisis response. It is also the apex body to lay down policies, plans and guidelines for Disaster Management to ensure timely and effective response to disasters.
– National Executive Committee (NEC)
A National Executive Committee is constituted under Section 8 of DM Act, 2005 to assist the National Authority in the performance of its functions.Union Home secretary is the ex-officio chairperson.NEC has been given the responsibility to act as the coordinating and monitoring body for disaster management, to prepare a National Plan, monitor the implementation of National Policy etc.
– National Institute of Disaster Management (NIDM)
NIDM has the mandate of human resource development and capacity building for disaster management within the broad policies and guidelines laid down by the NDMA.
– National Disaster response force (NDRF)
NDRF is the specialized force for disaster response which works under the overall supervision and control of NDMA.
State level Institutions
State Disaster Management Authority (SDMA)
Headed by Chief Minister of the respective state, SDMA lays down the policies and plans for disaster management in the state.It is responsible to coordinate the implementation of the state Plan, recommend provision of funds for mitigation and preparedness measures and review the developmental plans of the different departments of the state to ensure integration of prevention, preparedness and mitigation measures.
District level Institutions
District Disaster Management Authority (DDMA)
– Section 25 of the DM Act provides for constitution of DDMA for every district of a state.The District Magistrate/ District Collector/Deputy Commissioner heads the Authority as Chairperson -The District Authority is responsible for planning, coordination and implementation of disaster management and to take such measures for disaster management as provided in the guidelines.

India: Case Study
Recently the Indian coastline spread across 7517 km saw an humongous growth in intensity of cyclones hitting . Globally the rate went to roughly 15% from 1979-2019 ; India specifically has been evident to a rise of 32% in past 5 years. According to Weather Underground report, The nation also holds 26 of the 35 deadliest tropical cyclones to its

The Reasons –
The ‘strong ‘ cyclone Nisarga coming on heels of yet another ‘strong’ cyclone Amphan, has much more to be realised than taken.
The Rise in the frequency, intensity and severity of the cyclones have pivotal reasons to it . The most distinct one being, Climate Change .
Climate change is causing the oceans and the land masses to heat up.The cyclones are fuelled by available heat. Warming seas can make cyclones more powerful by increasing the potential energy available to them, effectively increasing their power ceiling or speed limit. Both Arabian Sea and Bay of Bengal had a temp of 31-33` c , when the recent Nisarga and Amphan did hit them .
The strongest cyclones have now become more common across the world and scientists project that climate change will continue to make the strongest cyclones more powerful.
The climate change has also lead to the growth of a new variant of cyclones in Arabian Sea iepre monsoon cyclones, along with the known post-monsoon ones; climate change being the key factor. These pre monsoon cyclones disrupt monsoon in the region, significantly .
Either leading to famines or floods. “Regardless, the IPCC reports indicate an increase in Arabian Sea cyclones during the pre and post-monsoon seasons as a response to the rapid ocean warming trends.”
-UN body IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) report.
This rise in sea level due to climate change or more specially global warming also makes occurrence of Cyclones conducive, as it provides large area for exposure and high chances of flood .This is happening at huge scale , a recent report suggested that-
“By 2050 cities like Mumbai, a city of 18.4 million people, shows several parts of the city submerged, including such landmarks as the headquarters of the city’s municipal corporation, the Reserve Bank of India, the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus, Oval Maidan and Brabourne Stadium.’
US based science organisation Climate Central
The unplanned exponential growth at the coastal cities
India holds 4 of its 10 major cities in the coast , in total the coastal rim supports a population of 210 million, with the likes of Mumbai and kolkata.
Post industrialisation and globalisation these cities have been evident to a rampant influx of population in search for job opportunities naturally causing to a fail city’s already struggling infrastructure.
In order to continuously meet the pace of industrialisation the cities employed rampant deforestation. Thus causing the natural barriers like mangroves in Bengal, forests in Mumbai etc to be evaded.
In absence of such barriers the ‘strong ‘ and hard blowing winds directly hit the densely populated regions . The soils also becomes weak, having no roots to hold them; causing land slides .

The problems, solutions and way forward
The cyclones, generally accompanied by tumultuous hurricanes, tornadoes or landslides deeply affecting the living in an area . The cyclones intervene the entire living in the region Crop failures are common in the region because the cyclones tend to interrupt the monsoon cycle of the region. Causing famines at times or generally flooding, leading to Electrocution or drowning . These floods also expose the area to risk for water borne disease and vector transmitted disease.
A W.H.O. Report stated –
“A cyclone and flooding in Mauritius in 1980 led to an outbreak of typhoid fever. There is an increased risk of infection of water-borne diseases contracted through direct contact with polluted waters, such as wound infections, dermatitis, conjunctivitis, and ear, nose and throat infections.”

The huge infrastructural loss is unparalleled with buildings, offices, educational institute and residence converting into smoky debris; leaving thousands homeless and unemployed. For instance recently cyclone ‘Amphan’ recently left 500000 people homeless. CNN recently reported that ‘destruction inflicted by Amphan likely cost north of $13 billion in West Bengal alone.”
Thus the after impacts of cyclones are not only felt in the current but the pangs of hunger, separation, disparity and helplessness can be heard long after.
And lastly alike all the calamities, cyclones also cause huge mental, psychological and emotional trauma.

The effective possible measures
The following are the suggestive measures
The government’s approach towards the calamity has to change , even though it made a long way in past 2 decades.The severity of cyclones are yet to be fully addressed.

Coordination of organisation and sufficient financial funding of policies and departments like NDMC,SDMC,DDMC or NEP etc. for setting up infrastructure that not only helps the needy once the calamity struck but also look forward for the development of infrastructure like shelter homes, roads and vehicles for transportation, availability of food and other essentials, that enables the state to combat any calamity in the future effectively.
The division of responsibility and accountability of each must be distinctly made.

The state must check the rampant deforestation , especially on the costal areas, else the area near the ‘eye’ of the cyclone becomes highly prone to landslides . Re plantation must be employed effectively.
We also need to regulate the town planning of the cities in costalarea . There must be no construction near the sea; buffer zones must be created .The buildings, roads built near the coast must have more endurance than the regular ones which can be facilitated only when the component civil authorities, regulated by government take the charge of it. Thus human engineering, also offer readily solutions …
“In 1900 the city of Galveston Texas was completely covered by the storm surge of an approaching hurricane. Between 6,000 and 8,000 lives were lost. Because of this devastation the entire city was elevated by 11 feet and a floodwall 16 feet above low tide was constructed all along the coast. These engineering steps protected Galveston until 2008 and probably reduced damage due to Hurricane Ike in 2008. Still, Galveston was not spared by Ike. Another approach, for cities on bays and estuaries is to build a moveable series of walls or gates across the mouth of the bay or estuary to prevent the storm surge from entering. Such a structure was built across the mouth of Narragansett Bay, Rhode Island to protect the city of Providence after a 1938 hurricane. Again the structure has proven effective.”
-Professor Stephen Nelson, Tulane University

We also need to continually build up our meteorological department, that enables the authorities to evacuate the people from disaster hit area.
Authorities like ISRO, NIOT and IMD need to work in collaboration for accurate prognosis.
“We have satellites (ISRO) and we have the weather buoys installed in the Bay of Bengal by the National Institute of Ocean Technology (NIOT). We keep on monitoring these products for any development of cyclonic disturbances over the sea. When we get a hint of a system developing, the conditions are closely monitored by the IMD,”
-Gopal Iyengar at National Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasting (NCMRWF)

We need to educate our citizens about cyclones and the basics dos and don’t s like not to step out, switching off the power, water, gas supply.
Awareness drives must be conducted in schools, colleges, offices and other places of mass gathering in the prone area frequently.

The collaboration of various local NGO, private authorities along with the government agencies can should also be promoted.
These authorities being local to place and having large man base can easily and dynamically connect to the people, handle craving for emotional space. This can effectively cut down expenses from government funds a and would the jobs easier.

The state needs to promote, especially the youth for oraganised data collection with specifications like impact on each sex, class, aftermath. It also needs to drive research, innovation so as enable to build up effective and cost friendly disaster management, for as said
,”Almost everything that is great has been done by youth”
-Benjamin Disraeli

Cyclone for the Indian mass is a familiar stranger. The silence on it by the masses and the authorities is deafening and devastating. The fact that we have 45% of our most important settlements adding significantly to us economically, culturally, aesthetically and socially on costal rim; is to be realised. The plans taken by government and authorities undoubtedly made a long way, from cyclone Bhola(500000fatalities) to
cyclone Fani which where 1.2 million people (equal to the
( population of Mauritius) were evacuated in less than 48 hours, and almost 7,000 kitchens, catering to 9,000 shelters, were made functional overnight;This mammoth exercise involved more than 45,000 volunteers.
But have a longer way to go where nations like Japan can be taken up as inspiration.Public private partnership, well researched and detailed study of the cyclones. Public awakening, intelligent engineering and effective, dedicated measures to combat climate change can definitely help the nation to grow above its “tropical” miseries; making the lives in tropical areas resplendent and blissful.

1. Times of India maharashtra-will-be-most-affected-by-cyclone-nisarga-warns-imd/ 01 June 2020 32%-rise-in-number-of-cyclones-in-past-5-years-imd 19 Nov , 2019
2. India Metrological Department Reports
4. National Disaster Management Authority Report , Management of cyclone, 2008 report.
5. Economic Times;Coastal Concerns: Rising sea levels will inundate coastal areas sooner than projected By G Seetharaman, ET Bureau
6. Strengthening disaster risk management in India: A review of five state disaster management plans by Aditya Bahadur, Emma Lovell and Florence Pichon; July 2016
7. National Cyclone Risk Mitigation Project (info from the portal)
8. BBC News – Amphan: Why Bay of Bengal is the world’s hotbed of tropical cyclones by Soutik Biswas; 19 May 2020
9. Business Standard Cyclones are becoming more fierce and frequent; 2 june 2020
10. National Herald -Here’s why cyclones hit eastern coast of India ;APR 29 2019
11. Down to earth; Fierce and frequent: What causes rapid intensification of cyclones?
By Raghu MurtuguddeLast Updated: Tuesday 30 June 2020
12. How are cyclones named ; Indian express and factly on 20 may2020
13. Cyclone – Drishti ias by 4 June 2020

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