Cyclone Tauktae Could Have Been Less Catastrophic: What Went Wrong?

cyclone tauktae blog cover arch india

Cyclone Tauktae, one of the most severe cyclonic storms ever recorded as per the Indian Meteorological Department (IMD), made its landfall in southern Gujarat’s Saurashtra coastal region on May 17, 2021. Tauktae showed its fury to all western coastal regions of India with a gusting wind speed of about 180 kmph. More than a hundred people succumbed to the cyclone’s rage; about 200,000 people in Gujarat alone were displaced.

Cyclone Tauktae was equivalent to a Category 3 or 4 Hurricane, reports the NASA Earth Observatory. Many claim that Tauktae is a manifestation of climate change. To make things worse, the unplanned and rampant development of infrastructure projects in the Western Coastal Regions amplified the impacts of the cyclone.

Yes, Cyclone Tauktae could have been less catastrophic, and a lot went wrong.

Cyclone Tauktae Satellite Image
Cyclone Tauktae | Source: NASA Earth Observatory

Why do Cyclones form over the Arabian Sea?

The West Coast of India, facing the Arabian Sea, is new to the world of cyclones. The Arabian sea used to be calmer when compared to the Bay of Bengal, but not anymore. As the sea becomes more and more violent, it gets harder to predict the nature and the formation of cyclones in the future.

One of the basic principles of cyclone formation is that it draws energy from the warm surface water and humid air over the tropical seas. Due to global warming, seawater up to the depth of 50 m reaches considerable high temperatures in the Arabian sea. This provides favorable conditions for the formation of fierce cyclones.

Experts say that the frequent and unnatural occurrences of cyclones in the Arabian Sea might be a ‘new normal’ concept that we may have to adapt ourselves to. So far, the Western Coastal Plains and its people did not have to guard themselves against such a disaster.

Geographically speaking, the Western Coastal Plains are regions that lie between the Western Indian Coast and the Western Ghats, spreading over a width of 50km. These plains stretch from the Rann of Kutch in Gujarat to Kanyakumari in Tamil Nadu. Lands here are very fertile, suitable for crop cultivation, while the nearby ocean promotes small fishing industries.

The coast comprises the Konkan Coast in Gujarat, the Kannada Coast in Karnataka and the Malabar Coast spread across Kerala and Tamil Nadu. Of these, the Konkan and Kannada Coasts have stable uninterrupted coastlines. The 570 km long Malabar Coast, however, is more disrupted, and dotted with various lagoons and marshes. This makes it even more vulnerable to Super Cyclonic Storms.

The Catalyst to the Destruction

To add salt to the sore, the unplanned and haphazard construction activities taking place in these regions amplify the overall impact of the cyclones. The western region contributed about 35% to the GDP of India in 2018-19. Thus, we can gauge the amount of critical infrastructure spread in the area. About half of these, such as oil refineries, shipyards, manufacturing units, highways and railways, are located in the top hazard zones. 

Multiple reports of rampant coastal zone violations have come to light, which have contributed to large scale Sea Erosion. To name a few, the dredging of the shipping route to Cochin shipyard and the construction of a coastal highway connecting Kochi and Alappuzha in Kerala have acted as catalysts, causing about 63% of the state’s coastline facing sea erosion.

Similarly industrial activities and infrastructure development in Panjim, Goa, has affected the region’s fragile marine ecosystem. A 12000 crore Land Reclamation Project for Mumbai Coastal Roads is the best example. As per claims, South Mumbai has been facing intensified waterlogging every monsoon since construction began for the project.

To top it off, the Environment Ministry recently cleared at least 12 Mega infrastructure Projects. These comprise railways, highways and power transmission lines. The projects require felling approximately 270,000 trees at the core of the dense Western Ghats – one of the world’s most prominent biological diversity hotspots.

A Heavy Toll on the Marine Ecosystem

Infrastructural projects such as the above are taking a heavy toll on marine ecology. The situation is leading to inevitable problems for the fisherfolk and their livelihood. Highways and flyovers have replaced mangrove forests and marshes. The latter play a significant role in reducing the forces of strong cyclonic winds.

What Do You Sea?

In place of coral reefs, breakwater columns and shipyards are flourishing. The natural drainage and reservoir topography of the land is also fading away. This would eventually result in flooding and stagnation of rainwater. The destruction of these natural storm defenders for man-made infrastructure is only going to result in a double blow for us, such as more severe storms like Cyclone Tauktae.

Yes, these projects envision the betterment of the masses. However, their implementation and planning barely involve opinions of major stakeholders. Instead of such a Top-to-Bottom Approach, governments need to collaborate over developing resilient strategies democratically.

Mitigation Efforts and Future Outlook

Phase-II of the National Cyclone Risk Mitigation Project (NCRMP), launched in 2015, has been implementing project proposals and targets to be achieved for all the West Coast regions of India. Some of the strategies include construction of cyclone shelters, sea walls, all-weather roads, underground electric cables. Participating states have been actively executing these counter-active measures.

The ultimate aim of all such strategies is to make rescue operations hassle-free. However, a permanent solution to defend life and livelihood against the atrocities of the cyclone haven’t been formulated yet. The core problem lies in the way the coastal cities are designed. The land and ocean have traditionally been treated as separate entities; the former is prioritized whereas the latter is devalued and ignored.

The need of the hour, therefore, is to lay emphasis on balanced, parallel development in Blue and Green Infrastructure. This way we can build resilient cities, encompassing wholesome conservation and management of our delicate marine ecosystem.

Mehna S
Mehna S

Mehna is a fresh B.arch graduate who who likes to pen down her thoughts and opinions about the ‘Whats and Whys’ of the architectural world. She gets excited to explore and unravel the unheard fantasies and secrets of the astounding architectural marvels.

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