More often than not, the Kalbaisakhis
(Nor’westers) are looked upon as the momentary speed winds of cool relief from the distressing summers in the eastern parts of India and in Bangladesh. This year, the magnitude of cyclonic impact went many notches up, completely devastating the state of West Bengal. Cyclone Amphan, which ravaged the region on 20 May with a 3-minute maximum wind speed of 145 mph
, was the strongest cyclone over the Bay of Bengal in the 21st century. As the world reels under the COVID-19 pandemic — West Bengal, which served as the epicentre of the cyclone’s landfall
— became the worst hit state by the super cyclone. If the pandemic and the cyclone were not enough, West Bengal’s Bankura district was also jolted by a mild 4.1 magnitude earthquake
on 8 April. Again on 26 May, the neighbouring northeastern states felt strong tremors of two consecutive earthquakes that hit Manipur
As the world reels under the COVID-19 pandemic — West Bengal, which served as the epicentre of the cyclone’s landfall — became the worst hit state by the super cyclone.
Given the previous experiences of cyclones getting deflected towards Bangladesh, neither the state’s infrastructural preparedness nor the mental fortitude of the citizens was ready to meet this catastrophic challenge. However, more than 500,000 people
were evacuated in West Bengal alone, in anticipation of this disaster. Although Cyclone Aila was the last disaster of a similar kind to have such a devastating effect in terms of fatalities, this time the UN has declared
Cyclone Amphan to be much more dangerous than Aila. A few Bay of Bengal cyclones in the last 15 years are listed below.
Source: Author’s own, from multiple media reports.
One of the main reasons why Amphan was more economically damaging than the previous cyclones was because of its passage through densely populated urban regions such as Kolkata which has much more physical infrastructure. Meanwhile, the restrictions on usual economic activities due to the pandemic have definitely helped in bringing down the human casualties to a large extent. Contrasting statistics were seen during the last super cyclone in the region, the 1999 Odisha Cyclone — which reportedly killed about 9,887 people
with estimated losses amounting to $4.44 billion
— in comparison to Amphan’s reported fatality of about 130 people and economic damages worth approximately $13.2 billion.
One of the main reasons why Amphan was more economically damaging than the previous cyclones was because of its passage through densely populated urban regions such as Kolkata which has much more physical infrastructure.
There is no doubt that the coronavirus pandemic coupled with this devastating cyclone will continue to wreck havoc on the West Bengal economy. Estimates show that the national lockdown to contain COVID-19 approximately costs $4.5 billion to the Indian GDP per day
. Dividing this figure by West Bengal’s GSDP proportion (West Bengal GSDP’s share in Indian GDP is approximately 5.4 percent
) roughly projects the state’s daily loss at $0.25 billion per day. Now, cumulating these losses over a two-month period and adding it to the estimated economic damage due to the cyclone gives us a horrific figure of about $28 billion. To put it in perspective, the value of this loss is more than the entire GDP of Iceland or the GDP values of Afghanistan and Rwanda put together (as per 2019 estimates
). The scarier part remains that these estimates are largely conservative as the cyclone losses are yet to be estimated as the partial lockdown still continues.
At a time when the state’s health infrastructure continues to be overburdened due to the COVID-19 outbreak, only time will tell how the state plans to manage the morbidities that will ensue from the flooding and homelessness caused by this natural calamity. Additionally, the concentration of healthcare facilities in the urban regions in contrast to the heavy impact of the cyclone on the rural coastal belts and the Indian Sunderbans delta (one of the most vulnerable regions in the world
) makes the problem of healthcare access even more complicated for this large population that substantially contributes to the human capital base in West Bengal.
Cumulating these losses over a two-month period and adding it to the estimated economic damage due to the cyclone gives us a horrific figure of about $28 billion.
that the national media received harsh criticism on various social media platforms for failing its task of providing adequate coverage to a disaster of such magnitude compared to its unequivocal patronage in covering issues of India’s Hindi heartland. In fact, the day after the cyclone ravaged West Bengal and Odisha, the international media played a more pivotal role in highlighting Amphan as a catastrophe of humongous proportions. Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited the region on 22 May for an aerial survey of the affected areas and declared an immediate aid of ₹10 billion and ₹5 billion
towards restoration efforts in West Bengal and Odhisha respectively. The European Union (EU) too announced an initial funding of €0.5 million
to India as financial aid towards relief efforts.
Despite the initial funding, it is evident that no amount of relief packages could substantially mitigate the losses incurred on the economy which result from numerous sources ranging from the damage to Malda district’s famous mango cultivation
and destruction of fisheries in the coastal belts to the snapping of electricity lines and internet cables in large pockets of the state. At a time when the national reserves are in a sorry state due to the ongoing economic crisis, even if we assume that substantial aid is to be received in the days to come, the efficiency of converting these funds into productive physical assets lost in the cyclone will be a tough challenge to undertake. In view of this, West Bengal’s maintenance of its impressive GDP growth rate at 12.58 percent in 2019
, the highest amongst all Indian states, seems like a difficult task.
The views expressed above belong to the author(s). ORF research and analyses now available on Telegram! Click here to access our curated content — blogs, longforms and interviews.