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Safety nets and natural disaster mitigation: evidence from cyclone Phailin in Odisha


The global incidence of very intense cyclones has increased in recent decades with climate projections signaling that this trend will intensify. To what degree can vulnerability to extreme weather events be mitigated by access to a rural livelihoods program, particularly with regard to the impacts on women? This paper addresses this question through a natural experiment arising from two independent but overlapping sources of variation: exposure to a devastating cyclone that occurred in the Bay of Bengal region of India and the staggered rollout of a rural livelihoods intervention. Comparisons from household surveys across communities more or less exposed to the storm before and after the introduction of the program reveal that the storm led to significant reductions in overall household expenditure, and that these reductions were indeed the largest for women, adding to the emerging evidence for the frequently-posed hypothesis that women bear the brunt of the effects of disasters on overall household consumption. Participation in the livelihoods program mitigated some of the reductions in household nonfood expenditure and women’s consumption, but not on food expenditure. These results from a densely populated region whose topography makes it particularly vulnerable to storms can inform future policy approaches and aid in modeling the impact of these policies on the effects of climate change.

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Fig. 1

Source: authors’ calculations from IMD data

Fig. 2

Source: authors’ calculations from IMD Data and TRIPTI IE Survey data

Fig. 3

Source: authors’ calculations from IMD and TRIPTI IE Survey data


  1. The interpolated data are provided to us at a monthly scale. Summing rainfall over the month ensures that we capture the full effect of the storm. Taking deviations from historical levels ensures that any seasonally typical rainfall not associated with Phailin is not captured by our measure of shock.

  2. The correlation between the July 2009 shock and the October 2013 shock across grid squares is low (− 0.08).

  3. To the extent that rainfall deviations are correlated with other factors creating damage such as wind or storm surge, this measure captures the effects of these factors as well. If rainfall is uncorrelated with wind or storm surge, these estimates understate the full effect of the storm on well-being. If effects of the storm spill over from areas that received high rainfall to neighboring areas, the impacts will similarly be underestimated.

  4. SHGs were linked with the Odisha State Seed & Organic Product Certification Agency for certification and the Odisha State Seed Corporation and the Odisha Agro Industries Corporation for seed production and subsidy, while the Animal Husbandry Department subsidized poultry purchases and related inputs. District Industries Centers helped farmers’ groups establish linkages with agricultural markets. The state-run Mo-Badi program helped SHGs start kitchen gardens in member households, while the Directorate of Horticulture provided compost facilities to treated households. Many SHGs were also engaged in managing the mid-day meal program.

  5. Gram Panchayats are local government units encompassing an average of eight villages each.

  6. The rating of SHGs is an exercise that helps establish the SHG’s credit-worthiness by comparing repayment rates and attendance to area averages. SHGs that “pass” the rating were deemed credit-worthy for TRIPTI. There are typically three grades, with the highest grades allowing SHGs to access credit directly from banks, etc. The rating process is conducted by the state government federation of SHGs.

  7. NREGS is one of India’s flagship social protection programs, offering guaranteed work on public projects for adults in rural areas.


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We thank Madhulika Khanna and Aditya Shrinivas for research assistance; and SUTRA consultancy and the Social Observatory for data collection. We gratefully acknowledge suggestions and support from Saurabh Dani, Samik Sundar Das and DV Swamy, and financial support from the South Asia Disaster Management and Climate Change team at the World Bank, and from the contributions of (1) UK Aid from the UK government; (2) the Australian Department’s of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT); and (3) the European Commission (EC) through the South Asia Food and Nutrition Security Initiative (SAFANSI), which is administered by the World Bank. The findings, interpretations, and conclusions expressed in this paper are entirely those of the authors. They do not necessarily represent the views of the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development/World Bank and its affiliated organizations, or those of the Executive Directors of the World Bank or the governments they represent. The views expressed also do not necessarily reflect the UK, EC or Australian government’s official policies or the policies of the World Bank and its Board of Executive Directors.

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Correspondence to Eeshani Kandpal.

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Author contributions

PC and EK designed and conducted the research. PC, EK, and VR wrote the paper. NP designed the trial of the livelihoods intervention.



Table 4 Baseline balance in TRIPTI treatment assignment
Table 5 Baseline balance in Phailin-affected villages
Table 6 The effects of TRIPTI and Phailin on per capita festival expenses

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Christian, P., Kandpal, E., Palaniswamy, N. et al. Safety nets and natural disaster mitigation: evidence from cyclone Phailin in Odisha. Climatic Change 153, 141–164 (2019).

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