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Socio-political and environmental dimensions of vulnerability and recovery in coastal Odisha: Critical lessons since the 1999 super-cyclone

(Online publication of full research report)

The state of Odisha along the eastern coast of India regularly experiences cyclones, floods and droughts. The super-cyclone of 1999 brought the state into national and international attention for its extreme vulnerability to natural hazards. Even as its very poor people continued to suffer the effects of the super-cyclone, frequent floods like in 2008 and 2011 throughout Odisha’s coastal zone wreaked even more havoc.

This research project, designed and led by Vasudha Chhotray, is based on the premise that disasters are not exogenous events that ‘impact’ on societies, but a reflection of a broad failure of social entitlements and state action. The question of recovery from a disaster cannot be justifiably addressed in its immediate aftermath alone. In order to understand how a community that has suffered a disaster actually copes, not just with its immediate impacts, but with the challenges of reconstruction, then we need to consider these issues after the passage of a reasonable length of time. This focus lends itself to the construction of a dynamic concept of ongoing vulnerability that continuously shapes and limits the recovery process.

The project was funded by the United Nations Development Programme, India and the School of International Development, University of East Anglia in 2010-11. Its mandate was to carry out a retrospective study to understand how households in select cases have fared ten years since the super-cyclone of 1999.With intensive fieldwork in 8 sites across coastal Odisha lasting over 6 months, the project took a very detailed look at livelihoods trajectories, processes of housing reconstruction and access to community based, NGO and state assistance.

The research built on an exploratory study carried out in November-December 2008 together with Roger Few through a British Academy Research Grant. Despite the considerable time taken to process its wealth of findings, the report is timely and important even as we continue to see the tragic strikes of natural hazards and disasters across the world.