Cities campaign helps reduce cyclone losses

Jhunnu, 45, a widow lives with her three daughters in a village where Phailin made landfall. She has seen many cyclones – including the 1999 “supercyclone” – but has never experienced such a strong storm. She took refuge in this her neighbour’s house which, unlike hers, is made of concrete. Photo: ADRA India
 
By Andy McElroy

GENEVA, 22 October 2013 - Last week's devastating Cyclone Phalin is so far estimated to have cost $700 million. This figure would be higher but for the affected Indian State of Odisha's strong record in disaster management, according to a leading urban activist based in the State capital of Bhubaneswar.

Dr Piyush Ranjan Rout, who is an advocate for UNISDR's Making Cities Resilient Campaign, said the focus on accountability and reducing disaster risk had avoided an even worse outcome.

"Most of our towns are part of the UNISDR Campaign and the successful management of Phalin has highlighted the effectiveness of investments made over the last ten years," said Dr Rout, who is also the cofounder and executive director of the Local Governments Network.

"However, the still exorbitant economic losses experienced indicate strongly that in the future both the national and state governments have to focus more on reducing economic exposure."

The issue of exposure, and the rising direct and indirect economic costs of disasters, is emerging as a key element of global consultations for the post-2015 international framework for disaster risk reduction.

At the launch of the UN's 2013 Global Assessment Report on Disaster Risk Reduction, the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said direct economic losses from disasters were "out of control" at $2.5 billion so far this century, 50 per cent higher than previous estimates.

The State Government of Odisha estimates the overall cost of its recovery at USD700 million, including: USD117 million in relief; USD170 million to restore infrastructure for power supplies; USD63 million to support farmers who have suffered crop losses; USD70 million for repair of flood defences including embankments and drainage systems; and USD39 million in school repairs and rehabilitation of education.

This last budget line will help repair the 5,825 schools that were damaged. The State Government announced: "Funds will be provided for repair and restoration of school and college buildings based on priority."

UNISDR runs the One Million Safe Schools and Hospitals initiative to encourage greater efforts to make schools and hospital resilient to disasters. The evidence is clear: when schools are damaged, learning opportunities are disrupted, and the quality of education drops.

Cyclone Phalin struck the coast of Odisha on 12-13 October and affected more than 13 million people, including almost 1 million who were evacuated. It damaged 420,000 houses.
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