Come July, Odisha will be the first Indian state to develop and implement a public address system that warns residents of impending natural disasters as part of a state disaster reduction plan.
The Early Warning Dissemination System (EWDS) consists of a single button located in a central control room that, when pressed, will activate a series of loud sirens from 122 towers scattered along Odisha’s 470-km-long coast. The sirens will reach a sound radius of up to 4km and be able to withstand wind speeds of up to 350kmph. It will warn people of the danger incoming thus giving them the chance to evacuate if risks permit.
If successful, the system has the potential to save countless lives.
India is a country that is extremely vulnerable to the risks posed by climate change. Nearly 700 million of India’s over 1 billion population are said to be living in rural areas directly depending on climate-sensitive sectors such as agriculture and fisheries for their subsistence and livelihoods, as well as in areas at high-risk of disaster, including coasts, mangroves, and grasslands. Densely populated coastal areas are considered to be particularly vulnerable and India’s south has roughly 7,500km of such area.
Odisha, located on India’s eastern coast on the Bay of Bengal, is no stranger to the growing threat of climate change. For more than a decade now, Odisha has experienced contrasting extreme weather conditions from heatwaves to cyclones, from droughts to floods, all of which have claimed many lives as well as left lasting impact on the state’s economy.
As global climate change advances, such instances threaten to become more frequent and even more severe, putting more lives in danger.
In a case study of the Odisha and West Bengal region by Odisha Bigyan Academy, scientists estimated that in the absence of protection, a 1-metre sea level rise triggered by climate change will inundate an area of 1,70,000 acres of predominantly prime agricultural land and displace roughly 0.7 million people.
Odisha was one of the first states to begin work on a Climate Change Action Plan in 2009 and in 2010 it officially became the pioneering state. Under the first phase of the plan, several initiatives centred around preparing for a disaster were set in action, including promotion of SRI (system of rice intensification), livelihood diversification through fruit tree plantation, use of micro-irrigation, aggressive afforestation drives in degraded areas, coastal process study and the construction of multipurpose cyclone and flood shelters. Due to it’s efforts in disaster reduction, and the state’s focus on micro-level preparedness, fatalities accounted for in the wake of the 2013 Cyclone were drastically lower, at 21, then those lost in the devastating cyclone that struck in 1999, killing as many as 10,000.
Odisha is now in the second phase of the Climate Change Action Plan, covering the period 2015-20 to combat the challenges of climate change.
The EWDS, set to go live next month, aims to assist in alerting people of the threat of a natural disaster. It comprises technologies like Satellite-Based Mobile Data Voice Terminals (SBMDVT), Digital Mobile Radio (DMR), Mass Messaging System (MMS) and Universal Communication Interface (UCI) and will have towers in 22 blocks under six coastal districts such as Balasore, Bhadrak, Jagatsinghpur, Kendrapara, Puri and Ganjam. It will be directly controlled from the Special Relief Commissioner’s office. The project would be implemented under the National Cyclone Risk Mitigation Project (NCRMP) and Larson and Toubro (L&T) has been assigned the work.
As is the case with most of the world’s disasters, it is the poorest people who suffer the most. Such a system will ensure that harder-to-reach groups will not be forgotten in the wake of a disaster and will be given the same chances as others to avert the destruction caused by natural calamities.
Early warning is a major element of disaster risk reduction and if conducted effectively will prevent loss of life and reduce the economic and material impact of disasters. Monitoring and risk analysis are two essential elements for successfully detecting potential risks.
The India Meteorological Department (IMD), responsible for monitoring weather patterns, has operationalised a state-of-the-art mesoscale model for tropical cyclone prediction over the Indian seas and in recent years it has also enhanced its observational network with coastal departments, automated weather stations and automatic rain gauge systems. It is claimed that the ability of the IMD to predict weather forecasts has improved significantly in the past 15 years with changes in weather patterns said to be predicted anywhere up to 5 days in advance, critical for remaining prepared for natural disasters.
In light of Odisha’s strong commitment to disaster reduction, the state has confirmed its willingness to impart lessons on cyclone preparedness to 14 Pacific island nations that are frequently hit by tropical cyclones. Odisha has already been training its local communities on how to deal with disasters and keeps up-to-date lists of pregnant women and the differently-abled which are crucial for ensuring that vulnerable groups are supported in case of an emergency evacuation.
The pioneering system in Odisha is significant because it has the potential to help other vulnerable states, including Andhra Pradesh on India’s South-Eastern coast, which is also building up such capability to prepare for natural disasters. Not only is it set to save the lives of thousands in the state, it has high prospects of leading the way for thousands of others across the country and the world at large that remains vulnerable to the havoc caused by climate change.