Cyclone Phailin over the Bay of Bengal on October 11, 2013, before making landfall over the east coast of India. [Image Credits: Colorado State Regional and Mesoscale Meteorology Branch, NOAA / Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons]
Cyclones occur about five times more frequently over the Bay of Bengal as compared to the Arabian Sea. Warmer surface water currents, lower circulation of its surface water with the cooler waters below, and lower wind currents over its surface make the Bay of Bengal a hotbed of natural cyclones. Over the years, the cyclones have become increasingly more powerful due to the effects of global warming, which increases the temperature of the surface water, a condition that favours the start and acceleration of cyclones. In the new millennium, a barrage of cyclones has battered the east coast of India and neighbouring Bangladesh. The India Meteorological Department categorised Cyclone Amphan of 2020 as the only Super Cyclone after 1999, and nine others as ‘Extremely Severe Cyclonic Storm’, including Cyclone Phailin.
On 12 October 2013, Cyclone Phailin made landfall over the southern part of coastal Odisha, near Gopalpur in Ganjam district. It affected over 12 million people, resulting in damages costing more than 260 billion INR. In a recent study, researchers from the Indian Institute of Technology Bombay (IIT Bombay) have delved into how the affected marine fisherfolk communities of coastal Odisha recovered their living conditions following the cyclone. Such studies are crucial in assessing the success of different recovery measures in the face of increasing cyclones, to which a large number of people are vulnerable. The study, published in the International Journal of Disaster Risk Reduction, was supported by the Indian Council of Social Science Research (ICSSR).
The researchers conducted a household survey of 300 fisherfolk families in six villages of Ganjam district. “In our study, we focussed on the villages in and around where Phailin made landfall,” says Prof Trupti Mishra, one of the authors of the study. They asked the heads of each household about recovering assets including property like their house, the mode of income, and boats if they possessed them before the cyclone. “We physically visited the households for both the surveys,” says Prof Mishra, who hails from Odisha. They collected and compared the same data from immediately after the cyclone in 2013 as well as from 2014 and 2018.
The researchers studied how the fisherfolk reduced their vulnerability of livelihoods to the shock presented by Cyclone Phailin by investigating prior access to different kinds of human, financial, physical, natural, and social resources. They found that human factors like age, level of formal education, and the number of family members do not influence the process of recovery, rather having prior possession of gold does. Less than a quarter of the families have resources for a regular, formal or contractual mode of income. Although 50.7% of the families had recovered their incomes in 2018 to the pre-cyclone levels, 30.7% had lesser than before. The total income of the families, which is less than 8,000 INR per month per household, played no role in the recovery. But, families that possessed gold used it to recover their immediate health, houses, and boats.
While about 83% of the families received financial aid from the government and non-governmental institutions, it did not play a significant role in the recovery in the immediate aftermath of the cyclone. In the longer run, that is, in a year and five years after the cyclone, financial help aided the families to recover from the shock. The finding suggests that the aid and resources took that much longer to reach the affected families in sufficient amounts.
The study finds that families that lived in concrete houses before the cyclone had a better shot at recovering from the economic woes of the cyclone. Some of the families that lived in semi-permanent mud or thatched houses moved to concrete shelters like school buildings before the cyclone with the help of the local government. Such families had access to drinking water, food, and basic health facilities, which helped recover their economic and daily activities faster compared to those who did not move. While 43.3% of the families surveyed have permanently rebuilt their houses since the cyclone, 32.3% have only temporarily rebuilt their houses. As many as 12% of the families could not rebuild their houses even till 2018.
The researchers also looked into the impact of social networks on the overall recovery. Fisherfolk households have a strong bond within their community, with as many as 75.3% of the families having relatives in fishing. The families having connections with people outside their communities or villages saw an adverse effect on their recovery between 2013 and 2014. The researchers think this is because the fisherfolk form a distinct community and these families found it significantly difficult to compete with those outside their communities for financial aid and other indirect resources. The study also finds that trust and cooperation with the local government aided the process of recovery from the cyclone, but the advantages stemming from such associations fade over time.
Then, the researchers looked into the interplay between different forms of recovery. They found that economic recovery played a significant positive role in the recovery of houses. Families with prior access to gold could hasten this process, while factors like receiving aid and having literate family members also played a positive role. The families with a trusted relationship with the local government cooperated with official procedures, which sped up the process too. The recovery of the total income was aided by the cohesion within the fishing community, possession of boats, as well as access to a different source of income. The study finds that local governments made a considerable effort in helping the families.
Combining all the indicators of recovery, the study finds that, in 2018, more than 50% of the fisherfolk families have recovered to pre-cyclone times. The fraction of families who have not recovered at all or only marginally recovered has decreased over time, standing at 9.7% and 38.6% respectively in 2018.
“Policies which provide credits and aid to vulnerable communities are already in place. However, they need to be redesigned such that implementation and access to their benefits are improved,” says Prof Mishra. “For example, credit schemes that consider the communities’ exposure and vulnerability of their livelihood to extreme events, and are given at subsidised interest rates, can be helpful,” she signs off.
This article has been run past the researchers, whose work is covered, to ensure accuracy.