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The worst didn’t happen

Published Oct 14, 2013 01:55pm


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In our part of the world, we are used to disasters – natural and otherwise. We tend to take them in our stride as an accepted part of the news cycle.

So, when the government acts to minimise casualties, puts in place a mechanism to evacuate people based on accurate met predictions, it’s a sign that disaster management is a task the State can perform.

For once, it’s a time not to shy away from giving credit where it’s due.

For a large part of Saturday, I watched television and monitored my Twitter feed about the havoc that Cyclone Phailin was expected to wreak on people living in Odisha and Andhra Pradesh as it gathered force over the Bay of Bengal.

Television coverage, much of it repetitive in such circumstances, showed people being evacuated from their homes and being moved to temporary shelters. In some cases, force was used to shift unwilling people, reports said.

As predicted by the Indian met department, Phailin struck the Odisha and Andhra coasts on Saturday evening, making landfall between 9 and 10 pm IST.

Turning on the television on Sunday morning, it was evident that the worst had not happened. Yes, there was destruction, trees were uprooted and buildings ravaged, but the death toll was placed at three.

The casualties were nowhere in the scale of the 10,000 killed when a massive cyclone hit Odisha on October 29, 1999.

During the course of Sunday, it’s likely that the death toll may rise as relief workers reach interior villages. But certainly the numbers won’t be as high as was feared.

Early on Sunday, my Twitter friend Anil Bhattarai, who is based in Nepal, wrote: “I have tremendous respect for the Indian government. They have done a tremendous job in dealing with #Phailin.”

Even as we wait for information, Anil’s tweet hit home.

The disaster preparedness had worked. The loss of life had been minimised. Nothing much can be done about the uprooted trees and poles, the shattered kutcha houses or missing roofs but, yes, India needs a pat on the back.

From the state governments in Odisha to Andhra Pradesh, from the central government in Delhi to the army and paramilitary, it would appear that all worked to protect the lives of ordinary Indians.

They worked as if people and their lives mattered. They displayed that under a million people could be evacuated in order to save their lives. In the end, that’s all that matters.

I really can’t think of the last time the government of India displayed such unity of purpose.

According to L.S. Rathore, Director-General of Meterology, a decision had been taken to ensure that there were “zero casualties” from Cyclone Phailin. And, it appeared, that the goal had been achieved, Rathore said on television.

Confident about his department’s predictions, Rathore held up a map showing the predicted course and the actual course of Phailin – telling his live viewers across the country that the met had got it right.

He also didn’t forget to thank the electronic and print media for their efforts in informing the people about the dangers from Phailin.

Rathore was authoritative and well informed. He took questions both in English and Hindi and gave details Sunday morning about heavy rain warnings in the states of Jharkhand and Bihar.

It’s possible that there will be deaths from flooding and we’ll learn about these in the next couple of days.

Suddenly, for me, organisations like the National Disaster Response Force and the National Disaster Managament Authority have become more than acronyms.

There will be complaints about the lack of food and conditions in the temporary shelters.

But at least people are alive to tell the tale.


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Amit Baruah is an independent, Delhi-based journalist. He is the author of Dateline Islamabad and reported for The Hindu newspaper from Pakistan. He tweets @abaruah64.

The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (31) Closed

Indian Oct 14, 2013 01:41pm

Yes, for once, Indian govt. must be lauded for this mammoth that they undertook successfully. Evacuating about 7 lakh people to safety is no mean task. A job well done India! :)

anusha Oct 14, 2013 01:47pm

yes,,,credit has to be given to Indian govt,,,,they handled it very well,,

Devil Oct 14, 2013 01:44pm

Yes, pat on back to Odisha Government !! And other central agencies !!

BUT I am surprised that this appreciation for India is coming from Mr. Baruah !! strange indeed ...

kanakasabhai natarajan Oct 14, 2013 02:10pm

It is so true. The Govt. of India. state Govts., and the army did a wonderful job of protecting people by evacuating a million people.Having seen how Katrina wrecked the US, it was indeed a lesson to be learnt by all inclg. developed nations that life is more precious than anything else as it can not be earned again.

Gelata Oct 14, 2013 03:41pm

"For once, it

rahul Oct 14, 2013 07:09pm

@Devil: I was going to say the same thing but thought DAWN would not like to publish against its own citizens. Yes thanks to Amit for writting positive for India, you being from Pakistan we can understand how difficult for u it is to be positive about ur enemy.

Bong Oct 14, 2013 07:32pm

Mr. Amit Baruah Who (?)

alladitta Oct 14, 2013 07:51pm

Infrastructure can be rebuilt, food can be provided. Indians saved the most precious element, Human lives. Well done India. We need to learn from them.

Ozz777 Oct 14, 2013 08:54pm

It is quite sobering when one realizes that more people died in the temple stampede than as a result of the cyclone. Just goes to show how important education and social awareness are for the progress of a society.

piyush Oct 14, 2013 09:05pm

Respect GOI and MET dept., RESPECT hope they continue this excellent work and work effectively in the various future disasters

Nasser Ali Khan Oct 14, 2013 11:58pm

As a Pakistani, I congratulate the Odhisa and Indian goverments for having done a good job. Give credit where due; and hope we all learn from it.

mayur Oct 15, 2013 12:35am

well done to all indian government agencies including central and state govrnment....It was very difficult to evacuate 7 lacks people in just 2 days but NDMA done very well....

ROHIT PANDEY Oct 15, 2013 01:18am

"Indian needs a pat on the back" should rather be "Indian deserves a pat on the back"

'Needs' implies an act of sympathy or commiseration.

"Deserves" implies an acknowledgement of a job well done!!!:):)

That said...I remember an article here in Canada where disaster management in Haiti,Cuba and Dominican Republic were compared.

Cuba did very much what India did for Phailin during one of those powerful Caribbean hurricanes-busing people to safe areas,stockpile of food and water,disease control and medical emergency management...Cuba came out with just a handful of casualties.

Haiti was a disaster with thousands of deaths and Dominican Republic came somewhere in between.

Maybe the bureaucrats in India picked up the Cuban model or perfected their own?

ROHIT PANDEY Oct 15, 2013 01:29am

A collective compliment for Indians was a news paper letter in one the dailies here in Canada.

A police officer,( Canadian I think!) was in Mumbai when a hurricane savaged it..right after Katrina.He wrote about how there was not a single act of looting,how people stuck in their cars in the flood were fed by locals,how flooded tracks stopped trains from reaching the Mumbai station and how the villagers,many of them with little food for themselves reached out to the stranded passengers and gave them,the elderly were carried on backs of the young and sturdy to safe on and was one of the rare moments in life where you literally float in air!

He himself was stuck someplace in Mumbai as all communication went down..and how miserable he felt recalling the loot and rape in New Orleons after Katrina.

India has a lot of things to get right before "Shining India" can be honestly applied to it..but,little by little,things ARE falling into place!!!!:):)

ROHIT PANDEY Oct 15, 2013 01:38am

@Devil: Amit Baruah is falling into place just like disaster management in India...fortuitous happenings all at once???!?!?!?!?:):):):)):)

el chor Oct 15, 2013 01:45am

@Devil: Exactly!! Its the first time I've seen Amit saying anything Positive. most of the time he's like 'Dehati Aurat' , complaining about anything to everything of India. Infact I thought he got paid only to write against India.

Raja Oct 15, 2013 04:46am

Life is very precious and irreplaceable, glad to see people lives were saved.

Kumaraguru Oct 15, 2013 09:01am

Dear Mr. Amit Baruah: Thanks to the vivid portrayal of how 'The worst didn

observer Oct 15, 2013 09:39am

but, yes, India needs a pat on the back.

I believe the correct expression is 'Deserve'.

Yes, all the agencies involved deserve a pat on the back.

Shahryar Shirazi Oct 15, 2013 11:06am

While the loss of life is sad, well done Indian govt. I wish we in Pakistan can also uplift our game when it comes to crisis and disaster management. Shahryar

Dr.Nayyer Hasan Oct 15, 2013 12:08pm

Indeed a very commendable job done by all concerned .It is very heartening to know that so many lives have been protected by the brisk application of the organisational efforts and the positive role played by the media.

anand singh Oct 15, 2013 01:27pm

Evidently, there is after all a system in their madness.

The Govt did manage to get its act together. Kudos to the District officials, it must have been no mean task.

satya Oct 15, 2013 04:53pm

The Chief Minister of Odisha Mr Navin Pattnaik and the state team has done a wonderful job. Great going to ensure life is saved. Hats off to u.

Kumaraguru Oct 15, 2013 07:28pm

Dear Mr. Amit Baruah: Thanks to the vivid portrayal of how 'The worst didn

Ravi from Pune Oct 15, 2013 08:05pm

On last Cyclone there were 10,000+ casualty now there are only 21 means not even 0.01% of previous records. Its great work.

vbv Oct 15, 2013 09:29pm


SUNIL Oct 15, 2013 10:56pm

Yes, India has arrived in the 21st February. Credit goes to the people of India and to the servants of the people. Precious lives have been saved. The loss of infrastructure and material will be compensated by the hard work of the working masses. For the time being the consolation is - sir salamat to pagadi pachas.

SUNIL Oct 15, 2013 10:50pm

Yes, India has arrived in the 21st February. Credit goes to the people of India and to the servants of the people. Precious lives have been saved. The loss of infrastructure and material will be compensated by the hard work of the working masses. For the time being the consolation is - sir salamat to pagadi pachas.

Shubs Oct 15, 2013 11:48pm

@el chor: I think your dislike of Amit Baruah is due to him not kow-towing to your narrative on a certain politician from Gujarat. But then one expects nothing less from a bunch of people who need fast-track courses on understanding the meaning of criticism.

Shubs Oct 15, 2013 11:49pm

@Bong: And you are?

P.Mishra Oct 16, 2013 10:26pm

@alladitta: You are right.