Climate Extremities: Saving more lives & livelihoods during Crisis

When extreme weather strikes, even relatively small productivity shocks can cost societies dearly. Yet there is considerable diversity across India in terms of preparedness for natural disasters: In coastal Odisha, 99% of the population is aware of the comprehensive early-warning system. Yet in Andhra Pradesh, which is very vulnerable to tropical cyclones, about 30 percent of the exposed population is not aware of the early-warning system.

Alex Golub from American University and Elena Golub highlight the advantages to be gained by ensuring that inhabitants of Andhra Pradesh are just as prepared for natural disasters as those of Odisha.
How AP handled natural disasters
Since the Diviseema cyclone of 1975, Andhra Pradesh has weathered more than 60 cyclones, some of them moderate and some ferocious. These include the May 1990 severe cyclonic storm with a core of hurricane winds that claimed 817 lives, dam-aged 1.4 million houses and ruined more than 500,000 hectares of crops, with total damage amounting to ₹2,137 crore.
And the November 1996 severe cyclonic storm that hit four districts, claiming 1,077 lives, damaging 600,000 houses and wiping out 500,000 hectares of crop, with a total price-tag of ₹6,129 crore. And Cyclone Laila in May 2010 only killed 22 people but damaged 14,298 houses, wiped out 260,000 hectares of crops, and led to total losses worth ₹1,603 crore.
A lack of preparedness matters. According to research, a vast number of deaths and a large percentage of material damage could be avoided if proper actions are taken in a timely manner.
With 12 hours lead time, almost all natural disaster-caused fatalities in Andhra Pradesh could be avoided if the early warning system preparedness was at the same level as Odisha, along with about 40 percent of material losses. This includes livestock which can be moved, but excludes crops, because an early warning sys-tem is unlikely to be able to prevent those from being damaged.
The Golubs look into the cost of strengthening village implementa-tion of the states’ early warning system, by building awareness among communities to act upon the warnings to mitigate the losses.
They assume that every four years, each household receives an emergency kit (costing about ₹2500), and one representative from each household should participate in training (which costs them a day’s income).
Also, for every 100 community members, two leaders should undertake more intensive training on a regular basis so as to build awareness about any changes in the system over time (costing around ₹38,500 for every 1,000 people in the population).
Finally, a community communication (warning system) should be maintained and upgraded (at an estimated cost of around ₹83,000 per 1,000 residents).
Of course, the system won’t work all the time – indeed the authors estimate that 30% of damages will still be lost. Moreover, there will be false alarms, which each cost a day’s work, but will save nothing at all. Yet, when the early warning systems work, they will prevent almost all fatalities, most livestock loss, and some damage to houses.
Disaster preparedness: Saving lives & livelihoods
Adding all of these benefits together, the incremental benefit from getting Andhra Pradesh’s preparedness to the same level as Odisha means avoiding losses to society worth in the region of ₹1.2 lakh crores over the next 35 years. This means that every rupee spent on the intervention would generate benefits to Andhra Pradesh that are worth 20 rupees.

Improving disaster preparedness very importantly saves lives, but it also helps save livelihoods, making sure that entire communities are not financially wasted by the vagaries of nature. While any early warning system is no substitute for far-reaching adaptive measures to try to reduce the harm done by nature, making sure that inhabitants are prepared for the worst is simple common sense.

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