The severe cyclonic storm Titli that ripped through southern coastal Odisha, leaving a trail of death and destruction in its path, should be a wake-up call for the government. At the last count, the death toll in Titli and its aftermath was 61. Around 60 lakh people were affected across 17 districts, with Ganjam and Gajapati being the worst hit.
Gajapati bore the brunt of the calamity, accounting for 39 of the total deaths, with 34 of them due to landslides. Such high casualties from landslides are a first in the state. Landslides, in fact, are rare in Odisha but the ferocity with which several of them occurred caught the government and district administration off guard. Their occurrence poses a new challenge for the state. With Mission Zero Casualty a priority, the government carried out a large-scale exercise to protect people from the approaching cyclone and evacuated over three lakh. While it was largely successful in preventing deaths due to the direct impact of Titli, it evidently failed to anticipate the deadly landslides as well as the ferocity of flash floods in the region. The unprecedented rainfall on the hilly terrain of Eastern Ghats unleashed havoc in the form of landslides in Gajapati district. To make matters worse, many habitations in the hilly regions are still tough to reach and inhabitants in most of the affected parts did not have any inkling of the approaching cyclone.
In view of the changing disaster dynamics, the state’s mitigation framework, which has been focused on cyclones and floods, needs a relook. Though cyclones continue to be the recurrent threat, disasters like landslides, and even earthquakes, should be factored into the policy. CM Naveen Patnaik has given the right signals by immediately visiting the landslide-hit villages and announcing vulnerability mapping of the hilly regions. This should be the course of action for Odisha’s disaster management framework, which is regarded as a global model.