India Averts Devastation from Cyclone Phailin

April 10, 2014


Over 1 million people were evacuated into shelters and safer areas before Cyclone Phailin made landfall. 

Martje van der Heide/World Bank

In one of the most successful disaster management efforts in the world, India’s eastern state of Odisha evacuated close to 1 million people before Cyclone Phailin, the strongest cyclone to hit the country in 14 years, struck the coast in October 2013. Years of planning and preparation dramatically reduced the death toll from this very severe cyclonic storm, which was stronger than Hurricane Katrina upon landfall. The project is in line with the IDA16 special theme on climate change.


India’s eastern coast, where the state of Odisha is located, is one of the six most cyclone-prone areas in the world. Cyclones and storm surges often wreak massive death and destruction along Odisha’s densely populated coastline. In 1999, a Super Cyclone virtually paralyzed the state: it affected around 18 million people, left about 10,000 dead, and destroyed infrastructure and communications.  A growing population together with the depletion of mangroves and natural shelter belts has only increased Odisha’s vulnerability. 

" Had this cyclone shelter not protected us, we would have become one with the earth. "

P. Bhimraju Prushty

Village Prayagi, District Ganjam, Odisha


The storm at wind speeds of over 200km/h and was enormous in size. Here, it bears down the Indian coast. 



Following the 1999 disaster, Odisha became the first state in India to set up a disaster management agency – the Odisha Disaster Management Authority (OSDMA). The state government and OSDMA planned and prepared for natural disasters with unwavering commitment. They identified safe buildings, constructed new shelters, charted evacuation routes, established evacuation protocols and strengthened coastal embankments. Most importantly, volunteer teams were set up and mock drills were conducted every year in coastal districts. As a result, communities came to respect and act according to the agency’s instructions at times of emergency. From March 2011 onwards, the International Development Agency (IDA) has supported disaster mitigation efforts in Odisha as well as in the neighboring state of Andhra Pradesh. The $255 million National Cyclone Risk Mitigation Project, Phase I, is the Bank’s first preventive disaster risk management project in India. The project focuses on enhancing early warning systems down to the ‘last-mile’. It also supports the construction of infrastructure, including 284 cyclone shelters, over 1,000 kilometers of evacuation roads and 23 access bridges, in addition to strengthening 140 kilometers of embankments. During non-emergency periods, the cyclone shelters constructed under the program are used for a number of purposes including schools and community centers. 

" There was no discrimination based on caste, religion or social and economic status in this center.  "

Biswanath Sahu

Village Prayagi, District Ganjam, Odisha


Crews prepared for the storm with readily available first aid and rescue equipment. 

Martje van der Heide/World Bank


Years of planning and preparation paid off when Cyclone Phailin struck Odisha’s coast on the night of October 12, 2013, with wind speeds of over 200 km/hour:

1.      In one of the largest emergency evacuations in history, over 1 million people were moved to nearby shelters or safer buildings before the cyclone struck. The evacuation was carried out in record time.

2.      The usually massive death toll was reduced dramatically. Less than 40 people died, in sharp contrast to the cyclone in 1999 which killed more than 10,000 people.

3.      Over 4,000 free kitchens were opened to cater to more than 2 million people.

4.      185 medical teams were deployed to all affected areas and 338 medical centers were set up.

5.      About 5.7 metric tons of dry food was airdropped in inaccessible areas.

6.      Half a million families were provided with temporary shelter.

7.      Major roads were cleared within 24 hours, far sooner than could be expected, as men, machines and materials had been put in place before the cyclone struck, and there was close coordination thereafter. 

Bank Group Contribution

IDA investments are contributing $255 million to the Government of India’s larger efforts in helping communities become more resilient to the impacts of natural disasters and a changing climate system.


The Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery (GFDRR) has contributed an additional $270,000 to IDA’s efforts.

Moving Forward

While preparedness and prompt action reduced the death toll dramatically, the severity of the cyclone wrecked considerable damage to roads, buildings, and homes, in addition to bringing down power lines and disrupting telecommunications. The Government of Odisha has now requested the World Bank and the ADB to support the reconstruction efforts. A multi-sectoral team from these institutions visited the state in November and December 2013 to conduct a rapid damage and needs assessment to help the state build back better.  A new project - the Odisha Disaster Recovery Project - was approved by the Board in February 2014. The US $ 153 million project will focus on building 30,000 disaster- resilient houses, upgrade slums in the hardest-hit town of Behrampur, and further strengthen Odisha’s disaster management agency. 

1 million
people were moved into shelters or evacuated in record time.