THE MIGHTY Indian cyclone has again and again defied the law of averages that dictates that the same calamity will not strike twice. Not only do cyclones occur in this country with clockwork regularity, it is the same Bay of Bengal coast which has proved to be their favourite hunting ground.
The story thereafter has been repeated over and over, too. Paralysed by the tragedy, the state government would look to the centre, which would do the only thing seemingly within its capacity: send in the army. After the first few days, the death and destruction become too familiar even to qualify as newsworthy copy.
Just what is it about us that we feel so helpless before a natural disaster? Our achievements are obviously world class in many spheres - science, technology and computers being among them. We have the almighty nuclear bomb, and yet we despair when it comes to floods, droughts, cyclones and communicable diseases, many of them entirely avoidable man-made disasters. It is not that nothing has ever been done: from all accounts, there are contingency plans; a disaster management scheme has been devised for the very purpose of dealing with cyclones. However, there is the same desperation, the same abject surrender each time nature vents her fury.
WHILE PERIODIC instances of nature's fury may have a ring of inevitability tinged with a certain helplessness, the apathy of those who could do something concrete about alleviating misery is all-pervasive. The Pope's upcoming visit, Bofors and other such most-happening stories mean that the victims of the supercyclone will necessarily be relegated to less than preferential and top priority treatment.
Whenever there is a natural calamity of this magnitude, certain standard responses become the norm. There is, for instance, talk of establishing a full-time, centrally sponsored nodal relief agency healthy enough to actually act instead of becoming another talking shop. Another standard response is for the state government and its chief minister to complain about the inadequacy of central relief. However, all this pious concern soon gets dissipated, and the situation, once again, comes back to square one.
ONE QUESTION the cyclone havoc has thrown up relates to the accuracy that the meteorological department brings to its forecasts. If, as it appears, Orissa, which had been gearing itself up to face the cyclonic onslaught, was later induced to believe that it would be spared this time because of wrong indications that the cyclone was headed away from the state, it is a serious lapse in weather forecasting for which there could be no excuse with the meteorological facilities we now have.
AN INTEGRATED National Disaster Plan is the call of the day for anticipatory measures, including immediate financial from a National Calamity Fund. Unfortunately, the attitude of the governments at the centre has all along been that of a "benevolent feudal" coupled with red-tapism and petty political considerations. West Bengal had a bitter experience during recent floods in the last week of September, a disaster which surpassed the 1978 floods. Inspite of a loss of more than Rupees 20bn, the government of India has not extended any help against state's demand of R7bn. The state had to be content with only some uncharitable comments of the prime minister during his election visit to the state last month. Let it not be repeated in Orissa.Reuse content