Melwin Joy
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Melwin Joy

All stories by: Melwin Joy
Kerala Floods 2018 – A state under water

August 15. Just like a normal day under the sun when India celebrated Independence Day. This year in 2018, India celebrated its 72nd Independence Day to pay tribute and remember all the freedom fighters who had contributed a lot and fought for the Independence of India. But little did the nation know that it was going to be a destructive day for the state of Kerala which was under the usual annual monsoon.

For Kerala, this year, it was not the mighty ancient king Mahabali who visited his subjects during the festive days of Onam, but an unfortunate deluge embraced Kerala. Tens of thousands were directly affected when incessant downpour forced the State Government to open floodgates of 33 brim-full dams resulting in the overflow of all major rivers, causing severe flood. Particular areas experienced landslides which crumbled houses and hopes of people in the twinkling of an eye.

The weather department issued red alerts in all 14 districts of the State which were paralysed by floods leading to loss of life and resources, damaging homes, schools, hospitals, shops, etc.

Beginning in 15 August 2018, severe floods affected the south Indian state of Kerala, due to unusually high rainfall during the monsoon season. It was the worst flooding in Kerala in nearly a century. Over 483 people died, 14 went missing. At least a million people were evacuated, mainly from Chengannur, Pandanad, Edanad, Aranmula, Kozhencherry, Ayiroor, Ranni, Pandalam, Kuttanad, Aluva, Chalakudy, North Paravur, Chendamangalam, Eloor and few places in Vypin Island. All 14 districts of the state were placed on red alert. According to the Kerala government, one-sixth of the total population of Kerala had been directly affected by the floods and related incidents. The Indian government had declared it a Level 3 Calamity or “calamity of a severe nature”. It is the worst flood in Kerala after the ‘great flood of 99’ that happened in 1924.

Thirty-five out of the fifty-four dams within the state were opened for the first time in history. All five overflow gates of the Idukki Dam were opened at the same time, for the first time in 26 years. Heavy rains in Wayanad and Idukki have caused severe landslides and have left the hilly districts isolated. The situation was regularly monitored by the Prime Minister, and the National Crisis Management Committee coordinated the rescue and relief operations.

Causes

According to the India Meteorological Department, from June 1 to August 16, Kerala has received cumulative rainfall of 2227.26 mm, projecting an excess of 37.49% rainfall this monsoon.

The monsoon rainfall, which was about 256% more than the usual rain fall in Kerala, on the mid-evening of August 8, resulting in dams filling to capacity; in the first 24 hours of rainfall the state received 310 mm (12 in) of rain. Almost all dams had been opened since the water level had risen close to overflow level due to heavy rainfall, flooding local low-lying areas. For the first time in the state’s history, 35 of its 43 dams had been opened.

What made the maters to escalate was the fact of the sudden release of water from the Mullaperiyar Dam by the Tamil Nadu government. Following this many of the dams lower to Mullaperiyar dam overflowed and was forced to release. At one time the incoming water to the dam was almost double that of the released water level. The same matter was raised in the Supreme Court by Kerala Government. The Tamil Nadu government rejected the argument, saying that Kerala suffered the deluge due to the discharge of excess water from 80 reservoirs across Kerala, spurred by heavy rains from within the state. It also argued that the flood surplus from the Idukki dam is mainly due to the flows generated from its own independent catchment due to unprecedented heavy rainfall, while the discharge from Mullaperiyar dam was significantly less. Though it is difficult to attribute any single event to climate change, its possible role in causing the heavy rainfall event over Kerala cannot be ruled out.

The extraordinary southwest monsoon in Kerala unleashed multiple floods and landslides in the state, the magnitude of which has rarely been observed in recent memory. The situation, described as unprecedented by Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, was considered similar to the violent floods of 1924 if not as serious. The central and state administration, along with the armed forces, worked hand-in-hand across all 14 districts, to rescue thousands stranded in their homes.

After effects

Since May 29, when the monsoon arrived in the state, around 500 people have been killed, the government said in a report. 12 out of 14 districts in the state were under high alert, with central and northern districts among the most affected. Particularly, the hilly districts of Idukki and Wayanad have contributed the most casualties due to multiple landslips.

A total of 37 out of the states 42 dams and reservoirs have been opened to drain out excess water from the catchment areas. Shutters of dams like Cheruthoni, one of the largest arch dams on the continent, were opened for the first time in 26 years, releasing lakhs of litres of water per second into the Periyar river, which was already swollen from the monsoon rains.

One way to understand the scale of devastation that Kerala has faced is to look at the numbers. Around 10,000 km of highways have been destroyed because of the floods and landslides that affected the state in August. Over 45,000 hectare of farmland has been damaged. As per the revenue ministry, 11,000 houses have been wrecked and 111,000 houses partially damaged. The state announced monetary rehabilitation: Rs 10 lakh loan to re-launch small and medium scale businesses; Rs 1 lakh interest-free loan to buy household items. More than a million people were displaced by the floods; and the state announced Rs 4 lakh ex-gratia compensation to the families of the deceased.

The Kerala State Electricity Board estimates the loss to its infrastructure to be Rs 350 crore, and its revenue loss to be Rs 470 crore. The Public Works Department estimates a loss of Rs 5,000 crore based on the damage caused to roads and bridges. The tourism ministry, whose revenue in 2017 was 10% of the state’s GDP, estimates a loss of Rs 1,000 crore worth of business till December due to cancellations. An initial assessment by the state pegs the damage at Rs 19,512 crore, said government officials. The state has asked the centre for Rs 6,000 crore, needed just for repair work. However, the centre has only extended Rs 600 crore.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, CM Vijayan and Home Minister Rajnath Singh have all noted the gravity of the situation, promising to work shoulder-to-shoulder to rescue and provide relief to all those affected by raging floods and landslides. As an emergency measure, the Centre released Rs 100 crore for flood relief efforts.

Level of rainfalls

According to the India Meteorological Department, from June 1 to August 16, Kerala has received cumulative rainfall of 2227.26 mm, projecting an excess of 37.49% rainfall this monsoon. A normal course of monsoon is in the range of +/-19%, thus signifying that this has been an extraordinary monsoon for the state.

Idukki in central Kerala, a hilly terrain, received a cumulative rainfall of 3211.06 mm, pointing to excess rainfall of 83.59%. Six other districts, Ernakulam, Palakkad, Thiruvananthapuram, Kollam, Kottayam and Malappuram have all recorded excess rainfall of over 40% from normal course.

How has been the participation of central and armed forces in relief efforts?

CM Vijayan said that 52 teams of Army, Air Force, Navy, Coast Guard, Fire Force and National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) were actively engaged in relief efforts in the state. 12 columns of the Army, four Air Force helicopters and five diving teams of the Navy are involved in rescuing those from stranded and swollen areas.

Several low-lying areas in districts like Ernakulam, Kottayam, Pathanamthitta, Thrissur and Kannur are being serviced by the armed forces. People stranded on higher floors of their homes and apartments were airlifted with the help of the Air Force. NDRF teams played a pivotal role in evacuating those residing in landslip-prone areas and the people who got stuck in areas which became inaccessible due to various damages caused by the rains.

Reason for flood

A combination of heavy, persistent rainfall and the release of thousands of cumec of water into rivers like the Periyar and Chalakudy River from dams and reservoirs are responsible for the flooding of low-lying areas. Before the dam shutters were opened, adequate warnings were relayed by the district administrations to those residing along the river banks to move to higher areas. Authorities have no other option but to release the water at regular intervals from dams as the catchment areas were reporting water levels rising to the highest storage value.

Relief camps

A total of 1,067 relief camps have been set up across Kerala, providing shelter to more than 1.5 lakh people. These camps have been set up mostly at government schools, colleges, anganwadis, churches and auditoriums. Local private organisations and panchayats supplied essential food items and water to these relief camps. Three meals a day, sufficient water, clean toilet facilities, soap, toothbrush, toothpaste and mats were provided by the various officials, NGOs, private organisations and good natured people around. People were also allowed to return to their homes after officials formally made sure that their homes were rid of water.

Collapsed public transportation systems

Services at the Cochin International Airport Limited (CIAL), a pivotal point for air travellers in central Kerala, have been suspended after parts of the airport were flooded. An effort was taken to drain out the storm waters. Both the Thiruvananthapuram and Kozhikode airports handled most of the flights into the state.

Major sections between Thiruvananthapuram and Thrissur, was affected with railway tracks flooded in several areas. Train services on the railway bridge over the Periyar was suspended after the river’s water level rose until the bottom of the bridge.

Torrential rainfall flooded major roads and national highways in Ernakulam, particularly near Aluva. Streams connected to the Periyar flooding above its levels have led to water collecting on roads. Bus and auto rickshaw services have also been affected. Due to the flooding of the train yard at Muttom, Kochi Metro services were suspended too.

Ex gratia compensation

The Kerala government will disburse Rs 4 lakh to the kin of the dead while Rs 10 lakh will be offered to those who have lost their homes completely. Each person, forced to be shifted to a relief camp, will be given Rs 3800 as an emergency compensation amount.

What’s next?

No one can foil nature’s fury, but timely and concerted efforts can attenuate the effects.

With a large and growing population, there is unquestionable need for space, resources and money. But should we stop caring for the balance between consumerism and eco-sustenance?

When an expert like Madhav Dhananjaya Gadgil, a Western Ghats Ecology Expert, after thorough studies, calls “Kerala floods 2018” a man-made disaster, shouldn’t we launch a probe into the floods? We are left with two options now: Either go to the root causes, fix it properly, make necessary precautions based on comparative studies and technology; or hail the post flood rhetorics!

Melwin Joy
AUTHOR

Melwin Joy

All stories by: Melwin Joy