Amphan brings a message

Cyclone Amphan, the most severe storm in the Bay of Bengal since 1999, battered India (Odisha and West Bengal), and Bangladesh, on Wednesday. Between the two Indian states, West Bengal was hit the hardest as the cyclone made landfall in the Sundarbans at a top speed of 185 kmph, but went parallel to the Odisha coast. Winds decreased as the cyclone moved north-northeast, but it was powerful enough to destroy uncemented houses, uproot trees and crops and electric pylons, and caused rivers to breach their embankments. “If Aila [2009] was 10, this is 110,” said West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee. At the time of writing, the death toll in Bengal has touched 72. It may have been higher in the state (and in Odisha) but for the timely prediction by the Indian Meteorological Department (IMD); massive evacuation by both states (6,58,000 people); the presence of cyclone shelters; and regular cyclone updates by the state authorities to the people.

WATCH | Cyclone Amphan leaves trail of destruction in Odisha & West Bengal

The next phase of work starts now: Rebuilding infrastructure and reaching out to people with food, clean water and medical help. Many of those who have moved to temporary shelters have no homes now. Agriculturists have not just lost crops, but livestock. The storm surge may have also lead to the ingress of saline water into the fields and homes in the Sundarbans. This will hit soil quality and impact productivity, and force people to migrate in search of livelihood. The states now need to carry out a detailed assessment of what Amphan has done. Reconstruction efforts are never easy; it will be much more difficult now with the states battling another challenge that has taken a toll on their finances and human resources — the coronavirus pandemic.

Cyclone Amphan is also a reminder that oceans are warming due to rising emissions, and warm ocean water is a key ingredient for the formation of tropical cyclones. The number of cyclones in the Arabian Sea and the Bay of Bengal has increased by 32% in the last five years, says IMD data. However, the solutions — tackling the sources of global warming, and investing in and upgrading climate resilience and adaptation techniques — are complex processes and expensive. It also needs tremendous political will and people’s support and participation to ensure that development is sustainable. But it has to be done; otherwise, the costs, as Cyclone Amphan has shown, will be massive and recurring.

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