Weathering storms: On disaster response

Cyclones are inevitable, but communities need fiscal rehabilitation for recovery

While the full extent of displacement and losses from Cyclone Yaas is yet unknown, past experience points to a growing threat to overall well-being from such catastrophes. The World Meteorological Organization in its State of the Global Climate 2020 report described Cyclone Amphan that hit Bengal in May last year as the costliest cyclone on record for the North Indian Ocean, with economic losses to India of the order of $14 billion. In human terms the extreme event displaced 2.4 million people. What stood out in its aftermath was corruption in the distribution of relief, putting West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee in a spot. The Amphan experience should convince Chief Ministers that they must insure people against losses from catastrophes using a system of documentation that makes relief and rehabilitation funds non-discretionary. Half a century of economic wisdom postulates that governments are best placed to compensate people, since they can spread the cost of the risk of disasters across the population. But the challenge is to address the risk of cyclones and other extreme weather events using specific funds, making citizens members in a social insurance model. Moreover, considering the negative climate change impact on tropical cyclones, rebuilding should use a green, build back better approach. Cyclones will otherwise take the shine off economic progress.

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