The ferocious second wave of Covid has a key lesson for India. Disaster rarely comes with a warning; all we could do is remain prepared. Had we not lowered our guard, kept our ears to the ground and remained alert, the misery thousands were put through— be it for oxygen shortage, medicine and bed scarcity or the tragic loss of lives—could have been avoided. For all this to happen, India, as a whole, must integrate disaster preparedness into its core system, starting from the ground. This is where Odisha has taken a lead. The council of ministers of the Naveen Patnaik government, on Saturday, adopted a resolution to train every student, panchayati raj institution, government employee, elected representative, vana surakshya samiti and community-based organisation in disaster and pandemic management. The beginning would be made through incorporation of the subject in school and college curricula. The government plans to create a huge knowledge infrastructure; a task force will be formulated to take forward the mission. It even seeks to make disaster and pandemic management a compulsory part of the government recruitment process. The goal is to train everyone—right from the ward member on the ground till the CM at the very top.
A humungous task it may seem, but it is clear where this is coming from. Odisha has been at the mercy of natural calamities for decades. The 1999 supercyclone led to unimaginable destruction of lives and property and saw the state turn a new chapter—a fresh political regime under the BJD, helmed by Naveen. Mitigating that calamity took years but his government created a separate disaster management department, a new policy and an authority that remains focused on disasters. In the last 20 years, mighty cyclones have been dealt with ease—Yaas the latest example—as it has internalised the art of preparedness. But Naveen is looking ahead. With Odisha having borne the brunt of climate change, he has set sight on tackling biological disasters like Covid. Hence, his mission of creating a yodha (disaster warrior) in every home must get a bigger stage and not remain confined just to the state.