Contrary to the common perception that tropical cyclones are on the increase, due perhaps to global warming, studies all over the world show that, although there are decadal variations, there is no definite long-term trend in the frequency or intensity of tropical cyclones over the period of about a century for which data are available. There is, nevertheless, a sharp increase in the socio-economic impact of tropical cyclones in the form of increasing property damage. An analysis of cyclones affecting the state of Andhra Pradesh, India, in the last quarter century by normalizing cyclone damage for economic and demographic factors shows that here, as elsewhere, the greater vulnerability is attributable mainly to these factors and not to any increase in frequency or intensity of cyclones. The decrease of alertness in disaster management that often occurs after a few years' lull in occurrence of cyclones, known as the “fading memory syndrome,” also contributes to increases in loss of lives and property damage. This distinction between meteorological and socioeconomic causes for the increased impact is important to avoid a tendency for political and administrative decision makers to blame natural causes. They have to take these realities into account, not just in developing a vigilant disaster management system, but in land-use planning, development of coastal districts, and insurance measures.
India Meteorological Department (retired), Chennai, India
Madras School of Economics, Chennai, India