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Sunday, June 20, 2021

Riding the storm

Arabian Sea is becoming more cyclone prone. We need to reimagine development on the western coast

By: Editorial |
Updated: May 21, 2021 8:31:04 am
Traditionally, the Bay of Bengal has been more prone to cyclonic activity compared to the Arabian Sea.

Amidst the raging pandemic, states along India’s western coast have been hit by another crisis. More than 75 people have lost their lives in Maharashtra, Gujarat, Goa, Karnataka and Kerala after Cyclone Tauktae swept in from the Arabian Sea on Monday, leaving a trail of destruction. Furious gusts of winds going up to 185 km/hour uprooted trees and blew away walls and mud houses leading to the death of at least 20 people in western and southern India before the cyclone made a landfall in Gujarat, leading to a loss of more lives. Vaccination drives had to be suspended in parts of Maharashtra and Gujarat and Covid patients along the cyclone’s path had to be shifted to safer facilities. Several areas battered by Tauktae had borne the brunt of Cyclone Nisarga last year, some others had been affected by Cyclone Vayu the year before. Tauktae, in fact, is the fourth consecutive pre-monsoon extreme weather event in the Arabian Sea, indicating new disaster management and planning challenges for the country’s western shores.

Traditionally, the Bay of Bengal has been more prone to cyclonic activity compared to the Arabian Sea. The Eastern Indian Ocean is much warmer than its western part and till 2018, it was also stormier. The Arabian Sea averaged two or three cyclones a year, most of which would dissipate over the sea — it did seed four extremely severe cyclonic events since the 1998 Gujarat super cyclone that claimed at least 4,000 lives. Rising temperatures because of global warming seems to be changing cyclonic behaviour. In 2014, a paper in the American Meteorological Society’s Journal of Climate warned “the western tropical Indian Ocean has been warming for more than a century, at a rate faster than any other region of the tropical oceans.” That year, winds blowing at 125 km per hour forced authorities in Gujarat to evacuate more than 30,000 people. Since then, the frequency and intensity of storms in the Arabian Sea have increased.

The improvement in the country’s weather alert system since the super cyclones in Gujarat and Odisha in the closing years of the last century resulted in significant reduction in the loss of lives. More than 2 lakh people were evacuated in the coastal states to temporary relief shelters this year. But the virus has compounded matters. There are concerns that these crowded centres could become Covid hotbeds. Last year, for instance, Cyclone Amphan complicated West Bengal’s and Odisha’s path to recovery. Nevertheless, the states along the western coast have much to learn from the experiences of their counterparts on the east — both in terms of successes and failures. As a first step, they need to invest in more cyclone shelters. Over the long-term, conversations must be initiated on ways to factor in climate related vagaries while planning construction and developmental activities close to the coast.

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