A double disaster

Paper: III

Prelims: General issues on Environmental ecology, Bio-diversity and Climate Change.

Mains:  General Studies-III: Technology, Economic Development, Bio diversity, Environment, Security and Disaster Management

Context:

India forecast Amphan’s arrival; it must now handle the impact of the storm and COVID-19. The trail of death and devastation that Cyclone Amphan has left in West Bengal and Odisha demonstrates, once again, the fragile state of eastern coastal States during the storm season.

Current Scenario: 

  • The States along the east coast have evolved a code of practice for a storm coming under category 3 and above: evacuations, arranging for backup power, warning people to stay far from the coasts, designating strong buildings as cyclone shelters, and providing for at least a week’s supply of cooked food besides bolstering medical supplies.
  • Yet, the loss of life and damage to livelihoods is always significant. This time has been no different, and the Centre and the governments of the affected States, including those in the Northeast lashed by heavy rain, must help people already weighed down by a severe lockdown pick up their lives again.
  • There is an additional challenge, as thousands of people have been moved to crowded shelters where the COVID-19 pandemic poses a continuing threat. Adhering to hygienic practices, monitoring those requiring medical assistance and testing for the virus is a high priority.
  • Many who were working in distant States have just returned to Odisha and Bengal in the wake of the economic paralysis caused by COVID-19, and need sustained support after the storm.
  • The challenge is to provide pre-fabricated facilities for safe shelter in outlying areas, such as the Sundarbans, and use off-the-shelf solutions such as solar power to mobilize communities.

National Disaster Response Force (NDRF):

  • The National Disaster Response Force(NDRF) is a specialized force constituted “for the purpose of specialist response to a threatening disaster situation or disaster” under the Disaster Management Act, 2005.
  • The “Apex Body for Disaster Management is the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA).
  • The Chairman of the NDMA is the Prime Minister.
  • The responsibility of managing disasters in India is that of the State Government.
  • The ‘Nodal Ministry’ in the central government for management of natural disasters is the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA).
  • When ‘calamities of severe nature’ occur, the Central Government is responsible for providing aid and assistance to the affected state, including deploying, at the State’s request, of Armed Forces, Central Paramilitary Forces, National Disaster Response Force (NDRF), and such communication, air and other assets, as are available and needed.
  • National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) is under the National Disaster Management Authority.
  • The head of the NDRF is designated as Director General.
  • The Director Generals of NDRF are IPS officers on deputation from Indian police organizations. Director General wears the uniform and badges of rank of an army three-star general.

Amphan cyclone:

  • Super Cyclonic Storm Amphanis a powerful tropical cyclone which caused widespread damage over East India and Bangladesh in May 2020.
  • It was the strongest tropical cyclone to strike the Ganges Delta since Cyclone Sidr of the 2007 season and the first super cyclonic storm to occur in the Bay of Bengal since the 1999 Odisha cyclone.
  • The first tropical cyclone of the 2020 North Indian Ocean cyclone season, Amphan originated from a low-pressure area persisting a couple hundred miles east of Colombo, Sri Lanka, on 13 May 2020.
  • It made landfall between Digha, some 180 km south of Kolkata in West Bengal, and Hatiya islands in Bangladesh on May 20.
  • Amphan intensified from a maximum wind speed of around 140 kilometre per hour to more than 200 kmph.

This meant it witnessed ‘rapid intensification’.

The main reason behind this was the high sea surface temperatures of 32-34 degrees celsius in the Bay of Bengal. General long-term warming of the Bay of Bengal was the leading cause of rapid intensification.

Why Amphan is Nightmare for all?

  • This is the first super cyclone to form in the Bay of Bengal after the 1999 super cyclone that hit Odisha and claimed more than 10,000 lives.
  • It is the third super cyclone to occur in the North Indian Ocean region after 1999 which comprises of the Bay of Bengal, the Arabian Sea and the northern part of the Indian Ocean.
  • The other two super cyclones were Cyclone Kyarr in 2019 and Cyclone Gonu in 2007.

Tropical cyclones

  • Cyclones are low-pressure systems that form over warm tropical waters, with gale force winds near the centre. The winds can extend hundreds of kilometres (miles) from the eye of the storm.
  • Sucking up vast quantities of water, they often produce torrential rains and flooding resulting in major loss of life and property damage.

Tropical cyclones in the Bay of Bengal are graded according to maximum wind speeds at their centre.

  • At the lower endare depressions that generate wind speeds of 30 to 60 km per hour followed by,
  • Cyclonic Storms (61 To 88 kph),
  • Severe Cyclonic Storms (89 to 117 kph) and
  • Very Severe Cyclonic Storms (118 to 166 kph).
  • At the top are
  • Extremely Severe Cyclonic Storms (167 to 221 kph) and
  • Super Cyclones(222 kph or higher).

Storm surges

  • The term “storm surge” refers to rising seas whipped up by a storm, creating a wall of water several metres higher than the normal tide level.
  • The surge can extend for dozens of kilometres inland, overwhelming homes and making roads impassable.
  • A storm surge is shaped by a number of different factors, including storm intensity, forward speed, the size of a storm and the angle of approach to the coast.
  • The underlying features of the land at the coast, including bays and estuaries, are also at play.

Cyclone formation:

  • Cyclone is the formation of very low-pressure system with very high-speed windsrevolving around it.
  • Factors like wind speed, wind direction, temperature and humidity contribute to the development of cyclones.
  • Before cloud formation, water takes up heat from the atmosphere to change into vapour. When water vapour changes back to liquid form as raindrops, this heat is released to the atmosphere.
  • The heat released to the atmosphere warms the air around. The air tends to rise and causes a drop in pressure. More air rushes to the centre of the storm. This cycle is repeated.
  • Since Hurricanes derive their energy from heated seawater which can be prevented bypresence of upper-level-winds that disrupt the storm circulation forcing it to lose its strength.

How naming of cyclones came into existence:

  • Cyclones were usually not named. The tradition started with hurricanes in the Atlantic Ocean, where tropical storms that reach sustained wind speeds of 39 miles per hour were given names.
  • The practice of naming storms started in order to help in the quick identification of storms in warning messagesbecause names are presumed to be far easier to remember than numbers and technical terms.
  • Experience shows that the use of short, distinctive given namesin written as well as spoken communications is quicker and less subject to error than the older more cumbersome latitude-longitude identification methods.

Difference between Hurricanes, Cyclones and Typhoons:

  • Hurricanes, cyclones and typhoons are all tropical storms. They are all the same thing but are given different names depending on where they appear.
  • When they reach populated areas, they usually bring very strong wind and rain which can cause a lot of damage.
  • Hurricanes are tropical storms that form over the North Atlantic Ocean and Northeast Pacific. Cyclones are formed over the South Pacific and Indian Ocean. Typhoons are formed over the Northwest Pacific Ocean.

The four stages of cyclone warnings in India are:

India’s cyclone warning system has made major advances for being able to provide clear warnings and saving lives but the precarious lives led by millions of citizens have once again been subjected to a severe shock.

  • The First Stage warning Pre-Cyclone Watch, issued 72 hours in advance. It contains an early warning about the development of a cyclonic disturbance in the north Indian Ocean, its likely intensification into a tropical cyclone and the coastal belt likely to experience adverse weather.
  • The second stage warning is Cyclone Alert, is issued at least 48 hrs. in advance of the expected commencement of adverse weather over the coastal areas. It contains information about the location and intensity of the storm likely direction of its movement, intensification, coastal districts likely to experience adverse weather and advice to fishermen, the general public, media and disaster managers.
  • The Third Stage warning is Cyclone Warning, issued at least 24 hours in advance of the expected commencement of adverse weather over the coastal areas and the landfall point is forecasted at this stage.
  • The Fourth Stage of warning is Post Landfall Outlook and it gives likely direction of movement of the cyclone after its landfall and adverse weather likely to be experienced in the interior areas.

Steps taken by the Government of India to tackle the cyclone:

  • Evacuations, arranging for backup power, warning people to stay far from the coasts, designating strong buildings as cyclone shelters, and providing for at least a week’s supply of cooked food besides bolstering medical supplies.
  • Fishermen are advised not to venture into North Bay of Bengal along and off North Odisha, West Bengal and adjoining Bangladesh coasts.

Conclusion:

While the battle against the virus may yet be won sooner or later, India must strengthen its response capabilities for a never-ending cycle of storms along its coastline.