Nation must join hands to help West Bengal, Odisha
Adding to the great human crisis caused by the coronavirus, Amphan played havoc in West Bengal and Odisha, leaving behind a trail of death and devastation. The cyclone was the strongest one to hit the East Coast of India in nearly two decades. It battered several parts of the two states, washing away bridges and swamping low-lying areas. The cyclone killed at least 85 people in West Bengal. Millions of people were left in misery in the two states. Despite precautionary measures to contain the damage taken by the National and State Disaster Response Force, the cyclone left behind a grim message that it would take greater efforts to contain devastation by future cyclones. It also showed that eastern coastal states are fragile during the storm season. Much like the rest of the country, West Bengal and Odisha have been struggling to contain the spread of the coronavirus. A natural calamity was the last thing the two states would have expected to constrain their fight against the highly contagious virus. Yet, nature has its own ways and mankind cannot help it.
The widespread destruction of infrastructure in the two states will take a long time to undo. The cyclone and its aftermath has forced the administrative and health infrastructure in the two states to stretch to its maximum limit to cope with the coronavirus pandemic as well as the consequences of an unprecedented natural calamity. The two state governments, on receiving the warning of imminent arrival of the cyclone, shifted people from the path of the cyclone to areas away from it but this led to congestion in the places where people were housed, as a result of which the fight to contain spread of COVID-19 had to be compromised. The arrival of lakhs of Bengali and Odisha migrants from other states to their homes made the challenges most trying for the governments of the two states. With lakhs of shelters flattened or damaged, the residents would have to stay put in the temporary shelters and those returning from other states and the others would have to live close to each other, increasing risk of spread of coronavirus infection.
Such was the havoc caused by Amphan that the West Bengal government could not restore the essential services even after three days, triggering protests by people. Found wanting in restoring essential services like drinking water, drainage, and electricity in the storm-ravaged areas, the state government had to seek the help of the Army. The West Bengal government also had to take the help from the railway and port authorities for restoration of essential infrastructure and services. The West Bengal government has put the losses due to cyclone at Rs 1 lakh crore. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who went on an aerial survey of West Bengal and Odisha, announced an interim help of Rs 1,000 crore and Rs 500 crore respectively to the states. The central assistance could be too little to tide over the situation, especially in wake of losses suffered by the two states due to prolonged lockdown. Adequate help would go a long way in restoring the essential services, providing relief to the people and rebuilding the damaged infrastructure.
In view of the COVID-19 lockdown and curbs in force as also the paucity of funds, the restoration of essential services is bound to be delayed. The people in the two states are facing the double burden of losses of income and shelter due to the coronavirus lockdown and the devastation caused by Amphan. They would be unable to rebuild their lives unless the central government and the two state governments work in close coordination to provide assistance. Charitable organizations have stepped in to help the victims, but the devastation is of such proportions that only institutional and sustained financial and administrative assistance can help them overcome the great odds they face. The central and the two state governments must work together to build protection and evacuation systems that would reduce the quantum of destruction from cyclones. Odisha was much better placed in this regard, because it had set up structures that helped it prevent any human casualty and large-scale destruction from taking place in the state. West Bengal needs to set up similar structures.