India: Cyclone Phailin

In October, only a few months after the flooding in the north of India, Cyclone Phailin hit the eastern Indian states of Orissa and Andrha Pradesh, leaving 1 million people homeless.

The livelihoods of up to 12 million were affected through loss of crops and destroyed or damaged businesses.

ACT members deployed a large and well-prepared response with food, community kitchens, drinkable water and essential non-food items. And following the immediate relief work, efforts turned to early recovery, including provision of shelter and agricultural rehabilitation.

Over the years, our members in the country had placed significant importance on disaster-preparedness work. This included the building of 24 cyclone shelters in Orissa, all of which were fully occupied during the cyclone.

While the last big cyclone to hit the region, in 1999, saw 10,000 lives lost, Cyclone Phailin saw a much-reduced death toll of 27. This is testament to the huge impact that disaster-preparedness work – coupled with an unprecedented evacuation of 900,000 people from high-risk areas – can have in saving lives.

In many other ways, however, Phailin was just as damaging as its predecessor. An ACT member humanitarian team reported that at least 230,000 homes had been destroyed. Roughly 300,000 hectares of standing crops were affected, wiping out the harvests of subsistence farmers and causing extreme hardship for large numbers of people.

Cyclones form by taking energy from warm tropical oceans with temperatures over 26.5˚C. The recorded temperature in the Bay of Bengal, where Cyclone Phailin developed, was 28-29˚C, and monitoring of sea-surface temperature shows an ongoing trend of warming.

While no individual extreme weather event can be attributed to global warming, the frequency of extreme weather events is increasing and the area around the Bay of Bengal is particularly vulnerable, both in India and Bangladesh.