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How Extension and Advisory Services Can Tackle Natural Disasters

Natural calamities and disasters of various of varying magnitudes impact our lives.

From April 26 to May 5, the cyclone Fani hit eastern Indian states, Bangladesh, Bhutan and Sri Lanka, with winds as high as 215 km/h (three minutes sustained) and 250 km/h (one minute sustained). This caused severe distress to farmers in affected areas of India. Months later, many haven’t recovered from the impact. While massive relief operations are currently underway, it may take several months to bring life to back to normalcy in Indian state of Odisha.

A month after Fani, we, the scientists of Indian Veterinary Research Institutesurveyed worst affected areas in Odisha. We organized animal health and awareness camps in Puri and Khordha district. Our efforts were just a small gesture to the affected farming community. If there were no advance alerts from Indian Meteorological Department (IMD), many more humans and livestock would have been dead. Appreciably, the IMD sent nearly 65 lakh SMS to give Fani alerts. Nearly one million people were evacuated from the areas, mainly moving to about 900 cyclone shelters due to advance information. The UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (ODRR) praised the efforts, stating, "They seem to have done a very good job in terms of minimizing the possibility for loss of life." 

Over 40 lakh farmers in India have registered themselves for the IMD's Gramin Krishi Mausam Sewa project. Through this service, the farmers receive crucial weather-related messages that could help them to deal with emergencies. The sustained efforts could help reduce loss substantially. But cyclone Fani was devastating for the farmers who lost their crops, livestock and poultry. An estimated 53,26,905 poultry birds, besides 2,650 large animals and 3,631 small animals, perished during Fani. The poultry farmers were the worst affected as they not only lost birds, but also their poultry houses were flattened in great numbers. Many of those who have lost properties, livestock and their business are in duress, struggling with stress disorders and depression.

The natural disasters like Fani offer opportunity for extension and advisory services (EAS) to play a proactive role and display their capabilities. EAS can assist affected farmers to recover quickly. I wrote earlier about how EAS can help in disaster preparedness, response and recovery. My experience suggests that the EAS role is not yet well reflected in matters of natural disasters. It is mainly the disaster management departments who are only thought of during and after the disasters. Yet, EAS could have a significant impact on the results of any disaster.

How can EAS professionals be proactive in handling disasters and helping farming communities? I believe introducing regular academic courses on disaster management and climate change, organizing capacity building programmes for EAS staff, including mock drills, and linking/partnering EAS with meteorological departments and disaster management authorities would be helpful in bringing extensionists into the limelight. EAS providers need to be equipped with technical and functional skills to help farmers and their farms. EAS providers with improved capacities could be a strong force in reducing the impact of natural disasters. With improved capacities, they can also teach and train stakeholders of climate change and disaster management, policy, research, education, extension and farmers.

I am happy to note that GFRAS has chosen the theme, "Role of RAS in Climate Change and Disaster Risk Management" for its forthcoming 10th annual meeting, to be held in Jamaica between September 30 and October, 4 2019. I am confident this meeting will offer excellent opportunity to EAS professionals, including how to be proactive contributors in handling the climate change and natural calamities of various kinds.