The much-dreaded cyclone ‘Fani’ passed off relatively weakened through Bangladesh on Saturday. As the whole country watched what had happened in the Indian state of Odisha earlier on Friday and in West Bengal later, morning papers and TV channels on Sunday put the total death figure for Bangladesh at 16. Although every single death is lamentable, our experience over the past half a century has seen far worse, with human deaths of tens of thousands, let alone other damages wreaked on property and infrastructure. Besides, scores of air flights and launch and steamer services were cancelled causing disruption to human movement; on the sideline, the final match of an international under-19 football tournament between Bangladesh and Laos was cancelled in Dhaka.
Total damage, however, will take weeks before being calculated, but reports have poured in regarding breach in roads and embankments, demolition of housing and innumerable uprooting of valuable trees. And nearly a million people had to be persuaded to evacuate to relief centres or safer sanctuaries.
That said, one must accept that our preparedness for such events now compared to those of previous years has been significantly better. Gone are the days when one cataclysmic cyclone in 1970 obliterated a large swath of coastal areas exacting heavy human and material costs. A reliable sample can be guessed from what had happened in the tiny Manpura island of Bhola, which was left with only thirteen thousand people at the end of the 1971 cyclone out of a total of forty thousand before it. The severity of the 1970 cyclone is no doubt without comparison, but we have come a long way since, in terms of disaster preparedness and management. In fact, over the past five decades, Bangladesh has made such progress in particular facets of disaster management like relaying forecasts, persuading people to go to shelters in good time that she has drawn international appreciation on this score. A ministry has been raised with the addition of new manpower and equipment at central and district levels. All agencies of the government, including the army, the navy, the air force and the police, apart from the field-level district administration are geared up and galvanised reasonably quickly for natural disaster now-a-days. The newest addition has been the coast guard, whose very name suggests that it is most suitably placed to face disasters in the coastal belt in times of need, apart from its statutory work.
This time ‘Fani’ made landfall out of Bangladesh and its damaging capability lessened considerably as it travelled over land. Next time if something similar happens, the landfall may be somewhere else on the northernmost tip of the Bay, not a very pleasant possibility for Bangladesh. So the preparedness to fight disaster needs to be further heightened. Already questions have been raised about forecasts on tide and eve. This is within the sphere of duties of the Meteorological Department. Besides, that some embankments were in damaged condition from before the advent of the tide and cyclone and were not properly repaired in time, speaks about lapses on the part of the concerned authorities. Continuous preparedness for disaster management is a non-negotiable necessity. Whatever lapses were found this time could hardly be left for the future. They call for immediate corrective action.
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