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Response To Cyclone Fani

Response To Cyclone Fani

Many newspapers wrote editorials profusely appreciating the effective handling of the cyclone Fani by the state and central governments with the cooperation of the people. Hindustan Times wrote an editorial on 6th May, under the caption, “Superlative Example of Disaster Management”. The Odisha government deserves special appreciation and congratulations for successfully responding to the challenge of cyclone Fani. The editorials appreciated the efforts made by the Odisha government on a war footing to minimize the damages caused by the cyclone. As per the media reports, Fani was the most dangerous and devastating cyclone after the super cyclone of 1999 in which more than 10000 people lost their lives. The state government and other agencies constructed many cyclone shelters and put in place a disaster risk reduction system that included preparedness activities by families, communities, government bodies and NGOs.

The United Nations praised India’s performance in tackling the cyclone, Fani. "They seem to have done a very good job in terms of minimising the possibility for loss of life," said Denis McClean, a spokesperson at a UN news briefing in Geneva on May 4. "The almost pinpoint accuracy of the warnings, the early warnings from the Indian Meteorological Department (IMD), allows them to conduct a very well targeted evacuation plan which resulted in 1.1 million people mainly moving to about 900 cyclone shelters," he added. According to Chief Minister, Naveen Patnaik, 12 lakh people were evacuated and they were accommodated in 9000 shelters with the support of army, navy, police, government employees and 45000 volunteers. As a result death toll could be limited to 38.

India has learned from its past experience and took precautions to reduce casualties by significantly improving its capability for disaster preparedness and disaster management. Flood inundation villages were identified, rapid response teams were formed and aircraft and navy ships were kept on standby to aid rescue efforts. The Indian Meteorological Department could give accurate updates to the people regarding the path of the cyclone and the wind speed.

What the government and the people of Odisha could do with the support of the central government is nothing less than a miracle. When God works miracles through human beings often we fail to see them as miracles. Evacuation of 12 lakh people from the cyclone prone areas and reaching them to safe places and shelters within a very short period is, indeed, a herculean task. The responsible persons could do it because they could make use of the power God has invested in them.

Science and technology played a crucial role in tackling the cyclone. Technological advancement helped the IMD to predict accurately the direction of the cyclone and the speed of the cyclonic wind and the possible precautions to be taken by the people. The unprecedented technological progress is the flowering of the creativity God has instilled in human beings. Every human achievement is a glorification of God according to Fr. Varghese Alengadan.

The second aspect is disaster preparedness and the efficiency with which the systems and departments functioned in coordination with one another. This is part of good governance. God worked through the human persons and as a result the fruits of science and technology could be put to the best use.

Once a group of women religious visited Anandvan Warora in Maharashtra and interacted with Baba Amte, the founder of Anandvan. He told them, “Sisters, don’t delegate your task to God”. Often religious minded people have a tendency to tell God to solve their problems instead of taking initiative by making use of God given capabilities. Baba Amte was reminding the women religious of the need for being proactive and creative in responding to the challenges and problems in the society. They should not be satisfied only by praying to God.

People flock to pilgrim centres and the so called holy places with a litany of petitions to God. Most of these petitions are requests to God to solve their problems. It is a fact that some of these people experience healing or some of their desires are fulfilled. This happens mainly because of their faith and not because of the holiness of the place. Jesus often asserted after healing, “Your faith has healed you”.  He did not take credit for healing people, as many of our god men and god women claim today. Those who take credit for healing the sick are exploiting the gullible people. Often they carry bags full of money after these healing dramas.

I have heard a story of a farmer who was transporting his crop after harvesting by a bullock cart. On the way the bullock cart got stuck in the slush.   He began to pray to God, “God please pull out the cart from the slush”. The angel of God appeared to him and told him, “you lazy fellow, go and call some villagers and request them to help you instead of wasting your time. He did as the angel instructed him. The story has a very important lesson for us, human beings: God helps only those who help themselves. Asking God to solve problems without making any effort is resorting to shortcuts; it is nothing but laziness.

The army, navy, personnel of NDRF (National Disaster Response Force), the police, and thousands of government employees and volunteers worked hard night and day to evacuate people and to perform many other related tasks. As a result they could save thousands of lives. If they had delegated their task to God and only prayed to God in the temples, churches, and mosques, the cyclone would have carried with it lives of thousands of people. Definitely many of them would have prayed to God for courage, perseverance and creativity in performing their tasks and they would have experienced God’s presence and support in fulfilling their duties. Many people all over India would have prayed to God and God heard their prayers and performed miracles through the thousands of people involved in the disaster management. God did not intervene directly and perform any miracles.

There are some preachers in all religions who advice people to adopt a single point formula – prayer – to solve all problems in life. Some of them advise able-bodied and healthy people to sit and pray the whole day for others. In some places people come and offer money to those who undertake the task of prayer. Is this not a method to make people lazy and promote commercialization of religion? How can we justify taking money for praying for other persons? Will not God tell these people the following words from Gitanjali by Rabindranath Tagore?

“Leave this chanting and singing and telling of beads! Whom dost thou worship in this lonely dark corner of a temple with doors all shut? Open thine eyes and see thy God is not before thee!

He is there where the tiller is tilling the hard ground and where the pathmaker is breaking stones. He is with them in sun and in shower, and his garment is covered with dust. Put of thy holy mantle and even like him come down on the dusty soil!

Deliverance? Where is this deliverance to be found? Our master himself has joyfully taken upon him the bonds of creation; he is bound with us all forever”.

Come out of thy meditations and leave aside thy flowers and incense! What harm is there if thy clothes become tattered and stained? Meet him and stand by him in toil and in sweat of thy brow”.

Delegating one’s task to God and expecting God to perform miracles is sheer irresponsibility. Human beings have to make use of the creativity God has instilled in them. By responding to the challenges and problems creatively a human person finds fulfilment and joy in his/her life. God doesn’t do anything against the established scientific principles. Instilling blind faith and superstitions in the faithful under the guise of miracles is a great crime.   Some of these miracle performers and exploiters are already behind the bars in India. The religious leaders have a great responsibility to instil in the faithful scientific temper and critical thinking. Critical thinking is an important attribute of a spiritual person. In the absence of critical thinking religion can degenerate into superstition.

There is no questioning of belittling the efficacy of prayer. Prayer is needed for human beings to get inspiration, insight, creativity, courage, perseverance, determination and guidance to make right choices in life. As we understand from the Gospels Jesus worked hard the whole day and prayed in the night alone in lonely places and hills. He could meet God in the cave of his heart and listen to God’s voice in silence and thus discern God’s will. He did not pray, hauling and making loud noise and disturbing others. He condemned the practice of making prayer as an exhibition. “Whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, because they love to pray while standing in synagogues and on street corners so that people can see them. Truly I say to you, they have their reward. But whenever you pray, go into your room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret. And your Father, who sees in secret, will reward you (Mathew 6: 5-6).

Jesus did not pressurize God to fulfil his demands and desires. His prayer was to fulfil the will of God. "Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done."

Even though only 38 persons died in the Fani cyclone, lakhs of people lost their houses and means of livelihood. They need our prayers in order to get inspiration, creativity, courage and determination to rebuild their lives. God has invested in human beings immense power to solve any problem or face any challenge. Let the affected people make use this power to reinvent themselves and rebuild their lives with our support, including financial support, and prayer.


(Published on 13th May 2019, Volume XXXI, Issue 20)