Terror Once Again from the Skies

We are on this planet along with myriads of other life forms, only because of atmosphere, lithosphere and hydrosphere around us. These three spheres of the nature and all the living being, i.e. the biosphere, combine to form the environment of this planet. As long as the rule of the earth was in the hands of other animals like dinosaurs, things were a shade better. During their reign till about 6.5 crore years ago, the nature was at its worse. But these lesser evolved animals knew how to adapt and adjust with the nature. For example, around 5.4 crore years ago when the Global warming was at its peak, all the animals and plants who could survive the impact reduced the sizes of their bodies. Elephants with tusks as long as ten meters reduced the sizes of their bodies to like the present day ones. Like that all the large animals followed suit, as they knew that the only way to survive the climate was to reduce the areas of the bodies exposed to the Sun. Similarly, many living beings made gradual changes in their body sizes, food habits and water conservation etc. Those who could not just perished.

This has been happening on this earth since times immemorial. Or since times the atmosphere came in to being. Ever since it came in to being, this atmosphere has been playing a truant. The atmospheric gases are affected by the Sun’s rays very quickly. As the Sun shines brightly in any area, the air gets heated fast. And that leads to problems. Around 300 million years ago, the northern sea coast of the Tethys faced similar problem. This coast now forms the beautiful Kashmir Valley. Like we experienced the cyclone, Hudhud recently and are about to face the other Cyclone, this time from the Arabian Sea, named Nilofer, the coastal region of the Tethys see mentioned above faced a super cyclone. All the shallow water organisms, mostly shells were suddenly lifted by the cyclone, carried high, may be 40-50 meters and then dropped with a thud. Their brittle shells had not adapted to this kind of situation and they were shattered to multiple pieces, now preserved as fossils in the picturesque Pahalgam on the right bank of Liddar River.

The lesson from this narrative is plain and simple. It means adapt or perish. No point thread baring, the mechanism of cyclones or starting a debate that the ferocity of cyclones has increased due to man-made reasons. No, the coasts in the past have experienced much worse than today. But yes, we were not there to face it. Now we are there and in great strength where the cyclones are hitting severally and will continue to do so in the coming years too. What to do in such a situation?

There are only two options. One is to escape the wrath of the Cyclone, by following the timely warnings of the Meteorology Department. The other is to perish like those sea organisms of the past! Of course the first option is the only viable one. But again the question crops up, for how long we will continue to suffer the loss of property?

A peep in to the recent past will reveal something interesting. Till 1999, the cyclones were the real killers. The following chart explains everything in a nutshell:

Location Date Damages
Kolkata October,
The cyclone took a toll of 3, 00,000 lives in the Ganga Delta. A 12 m high surge added to the misery. Incidentally, an earthquake too coincided with the cyclone which augmented the loss of life and property.
West Bengal October,
Vast damage to property and life took place when this cyclone killed 75,000 people and 6,000 cattle. Communication system was severely damaged.
West Bengal October,
Perhaps October was a dreaded month that year! Another cyclone took away 80,000 human lives. Destruction of property and communication was incomprehensible.
West Bengal October,
While the country was reeling under the struggle for Independence, a cyclone with a gale wind speed of 225 km per hour hit Midnapore.
Andhra Pradesh November,
The cyclone took a toll of 750 humans and 30,000 cattle. Roads along the coast were severely damaged.
Rameshwaram December,
The cyclone wiped off Dhanushkodi from the map. A train was submerged in the storm surges, all passengers were wiped off and the bridge connecting Rameswaram and Mandapam islands was washed away by three to five meters high storm surges.
Bangladesh November,
One of the worst in recent times. Nearly 3,00,000 lives were lost. Storm surges four to five meters high ravaged the area, disrupting communication system.
Tamil Nadu December,
80 people and 150 cattle perished. Loss of property and damage to communication network was severe.
West Bengal September,
10 people and 40,000 cattle killed. Immense loss of property and communication network.
Andhra Pradesh November,
It was a cyclone that left a trail of destruction with 10,000 human and 40,000 cattle lives lost. Road communication, power transmission lines and towers were destroyed.
Tamil Nadu May,
700 humans and 300,000 cattle perished, communication disrupted.
Orissa September,
The cyclone killed 84 people and 2,600 cattle and damaged an area of 4 million hectares.
Andhra Pradesh November,
50 people, 25,800 cattle killed, 8,400 houses destroyed, road communication severely damaged.
Orissa June,
The cyclone destroyed 8,400 houses killing 50 people and 25,800 head of cattle. Communication network disrupted.
Andhra Pradesh May,
928 people died and 14,000 houses were damaged
Tamil Nadu November,
Extensive damage to roads along the coast. 185 humans and 540 cattle perished.
West Bengal April,
More than 100 people died, road network and other communication disrupted.
West Bengal November,
More than 4,000 houses damaged in 26 villages. Lakes were damaged and all communication network was severely damaged. Cyclone affected fisheries, the mainstay of local area.
Andhra Pradesh October,
1,057 people died, 647,000 houses damaged, road network completely damaged.
Gujarat June,
1,261 people perished, 25,700 houses damaged.
Orissa October,
Over 20,000 casualties, two million hectare of agriculture land severely damaged, 216,000 houses damaged, 200,000 trees uprooted and 5,200 km of coastal roads washed away. Due to an 8m high storm surge followed by incessant downpour for 48 hours, the coastal area remained submerged under three to four meter water for days together.

(Adapted from India Meteorological Department reports and Gupta, M. C. et al. 2001 'Manual on Natural disaster management in India', A Government Of India Publication)

Fortunately in the past 13 years, since the year 2000, the science of forecasting cyclones in India has grown in leaps and bounds. It is now possible to forecast the weather, particularly hazardous rain, snowfall or cyclones much in advance. Not only that, even the route of the Cyclone or the areas likely to experience heavy to very heavy snowfall, all are now identifiable. That is why during last year’s Cyclone Phailin and this year’s Hudhud, the casualties have been few. But the loss of property is still a major issue.

Though I am not a meteorological man, still I feel that mapping the landward striking distances of the past cyclones may help the government and the society in planning habitats in safer areas. Fortunately or unfortunately the coastal regions struck by cyclones are some of the most developed regions. In a spree of development the local authorities and people knowingly or unknowingly develop habitats, industries etc. bang in the path of the cyclones. No engineering solution can either stop a cyclone or change its path. But yes, the Mother Nature had some safety valves against the fury from the sea.

Our coasts were endowed with a wall of mangroves all around. These mangroves acted as a buffer between the sea and the land. Mangrove is a zone where the sea water and fresh water intermingle and accordingly fauna and flora that can survive in such environment is abundantly found. In our lust for land, we have systematically encroached upon mangroves and extended the land towards the sea. Consequently, now the cyclones attack with a vengeance and we blame the global climate change being responsible for the increased fury of the cyclones. Somehow a wrong message has been given to people that it is we who are responsible for the climate change. We are responsible to the extent that we have hacked millions of trees or have fiddled with the lithosphere, but we are puny in front of the Nature.

The climate has always been changing. It cannot remain the same, howsoever we may try. It is a product of several factors. The Sun is a major contributor in this process. During a warming phase more cyclones, floods and droughts are inevitable.

And inevitable is happening. To save the humanity, early warning systems, and properly engineered houses constructed on suitable sites are the only way to escape the wrath of the Nature.

Image (c) gettyimages.com


More by :  V. K. Joshi (Bijji)

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