Kerala needs sustained help
Kerala is in the grip of one of the most devastating floods in nearly 100 years. Over 350 people have died in the floods in Kerala. The floods have also caused extensive damage to standing crops and vital infrastructure. As many as 52 teams of Army, Air Force, Navy, Coast Guard, Fire Brigade, and National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) are engaged in relief and rescue efforts. Nearly 7 lakh people have been shifted to relief camps and on Saturday alone, at least 58,506 persons were relocated from the worst-hit districts of Pathanamthitta, Alappuzha, Ernakulam, and Thrissur. Many are stranded in their house. Apart from the meteorological phenomenon that caused a series of cloudbursts and incessant rains in the last 10 days, the poor land and water management planning is being cited as the reason for the massive destruction and loss of life.
Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan on Saturday said that the state is trying to overcome the situation with the help from the Centre and armed forces. Not only the heavy rains but also the poor management of inter-state reservoirs have caused such a havoc in the state. The Kerala Chief Minister had urged the Tamil Nadu government not to discharge water from the Mullaperiyar to Idukki reservoir but the Tamil Nadu government did not pay any heed to his appeal. The Mullaperiyar reservoir is located in Kerala but it is the Tamil Nadu government that has administrative control over it. Signalling an extraordinary monsoon for Kerala this year, Kerala received an excess of 42.17 per cent of rainfall between June 1 and August 18. A normal course of monsoon is in the range of +/-19 per cent. Idukki which is in central Kerala received a cumulative rainfall of 3211.06 mm, which is 83.59 per cent more than the normal. The Chief Minister also pointed to the higher density of population in the state as the reason for the high toll and extensive damage and destruction. Kerala's population density is 860 people per square kilometre, which is three times the national average. The topography of Kerala is also extremely fragile with 10 per cent of the land in the state lying below the sea level. The state has more than 80 dams and nearly 50 rivers flow into the Arabian Sea. While most of the deaths have caused due to landslides, the rivers flowing into the sea have narrow outlets. The excess rainwater overflooded the reservoirs and the rivers, causing the water to spill into agricultural fields and residential areas. Now, with water everywhere, the only way out is to shift the people to a safer location. Bringing the entire situation under control will take long. More than half of the people in Kerala live in villages and the floods have caused large-scale damage to land and property in the rural areas. As per an estimate, 40,000 hectares of farmland and 20,000 houses have been destroyed in the floods. The state has suffered a loss of Rs 20,000 crore as per initial assessment. Kerala Chief Minister has requested an immediate assistance of Rs 2,000 crore from the Centre. But the Centre has sanctioned only Rs 600 crore so far.
Kerala is one of those states which receive maximum rains during the monsoon and it is expected that the state has the necessary infrastructure to handle the emergency situations arising out of it. Scientific land and water management planning are expected to be part of its strategy to mitigate the problems arising from excess rainfall and subsequent floods. But this time around when the monsoon rains poured in extraordinary measures, the state is literally inundated with rainwater making its way into the homes in all 14 districts. Within a matter of days, the state administration had an enormous task on its hands -- of rescuing people from their overflooded homes, when most of the roads are washed out. Providing food and shelter to the people is another challenge. But the toughest task is to rescue stranded people when the weather is so bad that even helicopters can not fly. Rivers are in spate and any transportation through the rivers is unimaginable. There is water over the road, which are anyway broken at many places making road transport both difficult and hazardous. Various state governments have offered a monetary contribution to the relief funds set up to take up the task of relief and rescue operations. But Kerala would need sustained help and support over a long period of time to overcome this calamity.