Cyclone Fani: Man a pygmy before nature

Preparations made for disaster management helped keep human casualties in Odisha low (official death toll was) 64 unlike due to cyclone Fani. However livelihood of millions are affected

Photograph by Arabinda Mahapatra and Biswarjan Mishra
Photograph by Arabinda Mahapatra and Biswarjan Mishra

Sandeep Sahu

Sarat Sahu is unable to hold back his tears as he shows us around the ruins of what once was a flourishing coconut orchard. With fallen/broken trees and coconuts strewn all over the place, the former orchard presents a ghastly look.

“There were around 1200 coconut trees here. Ninety per cent of them are now gone. This was all we had to live on. I dread thinking about the future,” Sahu says, the pain unmistakable in his voice and with a lost look in his eyes.

Sahu is one of the thousands of people for whom coconut growing is the sole – or at least the major – source of earning. Most of them have lost their coconut plantations either fully or partially and now stare at a bleak future. The coir industry that feeds on coconuts too has been completely destroyed.

The state horticulture department is still in the process of assessing the damage. While estimates of the loss to the flourishing coconut trade are being made, one does get a sense of the extent of damage while touring the interiors.

“Before the cyclone, 30-40 coconut laden vehicles used to arrive daily at the collection centre. Now, it has come down to three or four. But the quality of the coconuts being brought is so bad that traders are not willing to buy them,” says Kamal Kumar Acharya, secretary of the Regional Marketing Centre (RMC) at Brahmagiri.

Betel vines and areca plantations, the other major cash crops too have suffered immense damage due to the cyclone.

The bustling, noisy Puri beach, normally bubbling with life at this time of the year, wears a forlorn look these days. Tourists and vendors who crowd on the beach in the evenings are conspicuous by their absence. With all hotels on the beach front in Puri having suffered extensive damage, the tourism industry too has been hit badly. “We hope that most hotels in Puri would be in a position to accept fresh bookings from June 1,” says JK Mohanty, President of the Hotel and Restaurant Association of Odisha (HRAO).

While Puri no doubt was hit the hardest by ‘Fani’, the loss of livelihood is spread out over a much larger geographical area that includes the districts of Khurda, Cuttack, Jagatsinghpur and Kendrapara. The loss to agriculture has been colossal. “Crops on 1,52, 985 hectares in 14 districts have been affected by the cyclone,” said Sanjay Singh, Information and Public Relations secretary.

Timely evacuation ahead of ‘Cyclone ‘Fani’ may have restricted human casualties to just 64. But livestock and poultry were not so lucky. As per an estimate of the animal husbandry department, nearly 70 lakh animals and birds, including 22 lakh chicken, were killed in the cyclone.

The large fishermen community in and around the Chilika Lake, a Ramsar site, has been hit particularly hard by Cyclone ‘Fani’. Most of the nearly two lakh fishermen have had their boats and nets damaged, either fully or partially.

“I am completely ruined. I have lost my boat and net in the cyclone and there is no way I can go fishing without them. This is the only thing I have known and learnt. This is the only thing I have done all my life. We are living under a polythene sheet with little to eat,” Gadadhar Behera says while tears flow down his cheek. The fact that the government has assured to compensate those who have lost their boats is no consolation for him. “I am still waiting for the boat I had lost to ‘Phailin’ in 2013,” he says ruefully. Like Behera, thousands of people across the vast stretch of land devastated by Cyclone ‘Fani’ – farmers, fishermen, coconut growers, betel vine owners and so on – now have to begin from scratch.

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