The picturesque Uddanam region of north coastal Andhra has been razed to ground with the devastation caused by Titli Cyclone. The Uddanam region gets its name from the word udyanavanam (garden). The region got this name as it is famous for growing horticultural crops especially coconut and cashew. This residents of the region that runs parallel to the sea is also most affected by chronic kidney diseases (CKD) which is known in medical parlance as Uddanam Nephropathy.
Cyclone Titli struck this region in the early hours of Thursday morning, leaving behind an unprecedented trail of destruction in this economically fragile region.
As per the preliminary estimates of Andhra Pradesh government, 18 mandals of the Srikakulam district bordering Odisha were affected by the cyclone. Over 12 lakh people in 872 villages were affected. The state chief minister N Chandrababu Naidu sought Central assistance worth Rs 1,200 crore as interim relief to tide over the calamity caused by the cyclone. The state government has tentatively estimated the damage to be worth Rs 2,800 crore.
The heavy winds up to the speed of 165 kilometres per hour and rainfall ranging from 10 cm to 43 cm caused serious damage to agriculture, horticulture, roads, houses tanks etc. Hundreds of electric poles and hundreds of trees fell causing a complete shutdown of power and heavy disruption in traffic. This, in turn, induced a serious scarcity of essential relief supplies especially drinking water and food.
This region is not new to cyclones. The state has 974 kilometres of coastline and the Srikakulam district has the longest. The month of October is notorious for cyclones in coastal Andhra Pradesh.
The failure of the state government to undertake timely relief measures like restoration of power supply, supply of food and water have further compounded the plight of the cyclone-affected people. The state administration is facing serious allegations of not being able to rise to the occasion and take mitigation measures. The locals are expressing serious anger over the delay in supply of food and drinking water. There are reports of sporadic protests by cyclone-affected people. The government may conveniently dismiss them as the Opposition-sponsored events in an election season.
But, the ground reports clearly indicate visible failure of government machinery in taking preparatory measures despite the climate department giving a clear warning of impending calamity. In fact, owing to the complaints of residents of affected villages, the chief minister has to suspend the mandal development officer of the Kaviti Mandal. Naidu himself reportedly told the district officials that more than 70 percent of the affected people are complaining of delays in relief operations. Almost all of the water supply schemes in the affected villages have gone defunct due to the power shutdown and damages due to cyclonic winds. The local administration that failed to anticipate the extent of damage could not arrange for adequate number of generators to fetch water from working water supply schemes.
Meanwhile, the ruling party and the Opposition are indulging in a political slugfest to reap electoral dividend in an election year. TDP spokesperson Dinakar Lanka said that the chief minister is personally supervising relief work by camping in Palasa town in the affected district. He called the Opposition tirade 'politically-motivated' in an election season. However, former revenue minister and Opposition YSR Congress leader Dharmana Prasada Rao said that presence of the chief minister and other ministers has hampered relief work. The real-time governance claimed by Naidu failed to ensure real-time relief, Dharmana claimed.
Almost 100 percent of horticulture crops like coconut, cashew, banana, drumstick and jackfruit crops were uprooted. The farmers of this region who mainly belong to socially and economically marginalised communities are thus deprived of their livelihoods for another 10 years as the standing coconut and cashew crops will give them yields for two to three decades. A coconut crop comes up for harvest every three to five years and provides income for its growers for nearly 20 years. The cashew crop also comes for harvesting in the same period and provides yields for 30 to 40 years. Thus the damage caused by the cyclone has seriously undermined the earning capacity of these marginal famers for decades to come. Famers are demanding a compensation of at least Rs 8,000 to 10,000 per coconut or cashew plant.
The release of water from the Bahuda river in neighbouring Odisha has submerged the paddy crop in Inchapuram and other parts of the Srikakulam district. Famers are alleging that inter-state coordination was lacking, thus resulting in the surprise release of water from Bahuda river into upland Odisha.
Cyclone-induced heavy rains in the upland areas in the state and neighbouring Odisha have caused heavy floods for the Vamshadara and Nagavali rivers. The absence of a wall or bank of earth or stone built to prevent a river flooding an area across these two rivers known for flooding, has submerged many villages and standing paddy, maize and cotton crops across thousands of acres. The paddy yields will significantly fall due to cyclone damages.
The work on embankments on Vamsadhara and Nagavali rivers began a decade ago, but is yet to be completed to any significant extent.
Similarly, successive governments neglected long-term mitigation measures like setting up of a coconut research centre at Uddanam to develop climate resilient varieties. The region cultivates a particular variety of coconut as it has a longer lifecycle. But, these coconut trees are easily prone to cyclone-induced destruction. The establishment of such a local research centre can develop coconut varieties suitable to the agro-climatic conditions of the region.
The lack of cyclone-resistant homes have also made the affected people homeless due to cyclone winds. Electric polls that can withstand cyclonic winds despite loose soil of this region should be erected to prevent disruption to power supply. The state government has to work on creating a cyclone-resilient economy for the fragile Uddanam region as part of a comprehensive disaster mitigation strategy rather than sticking to fire-fighting measures.
The author is the former member of the Legislative Council and served on the Legislative Standing Committee on Disaster Management in United Andhra Pradesh
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Updated Date: Oct 15, 2018 10:09 AM