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Kerala Floods: The havoc and after

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Incessant Monsoon Rains

South Indian state of Kerala witnessed torrential monsoon rains since late July 2018. As the torrential rains continued incessantly well into the first week of August with ferocity, it led to unprecedented flooding, the worst in this century, affecting life, ceops, infrastructure and property. Kerala received heavy monsoon rainfall 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 have been opened since the water level has risen close to overflow level due to heavy rainfall, flooding local low-lying areas.  The ferocity and severity of floods can be judged by the fact that over 350 people died within a fortnight, while at least 82,400  people were rescued, mainly from Chengannur, Pandanad, Aranmula, Aluva, Chalakkudi, Kuttanad, Pandalam and with all 14 districts of the state placed on high alert.

Opening of Dams

Thirty-five out of the forty-two dams within the state were opened for the first time in history and all five overflow gates of the Idukki Dam were opened at the same time after a gap of 26 years. Heavy rains in Wayanad and Idukki have caused severe landslides and have left the hilly districts isolated. The flooding has affected hundreds of villages, destroyed an estimated 10,000 km (6,200 mi) of roads and thousands of homes have been damaged or destroyed.

Anthropogenic factors

Blaming it on Monsoon is one thing, but the situation was turned into a disaster by anthropogenic factors as well. Most of the regions affected by this monsoon were classified as ecologically-sensitive zones (ESZs) by the the Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel, the Gadgil Committee. Most of the recommendations and directions by the commitee was either neglected or rejected. Chairman of the committee Madhav Gadgil accused the state government and its irresponsible environmental policy for the recent landslides and floods. He called it a “man-made calamity”.

On August 15, Cochin International Airport, India’s fourth busiest in terms of international traffic, and the busiest in the state suspended all operations until 26 August, following runway flooding. Many schools throughout the state have been closed, and tourists have been dissuaded or banned from some districts due to safety concerns.The Kochi Metro closed briefly on August 16, and has since begun offering free service to aid those affected by the flooding. Due to heavy rain and rising water levels the southern railway has suspended train services on Thiruvananthapuram-Kottayam-Ernakulam and Ernakulam-Shoranur-Palakkad sections.

Kerala’s Idukki district in the Western Ghats, one of the most affected regions in the unprecedented rains, remained cut off from the mainland for the seventh day with all major roads either buried or washed away in landslides. Unlike other flood-hit regions in Kerala, what led to the massive destruction in Idukki was landslides. According to the district administration, there were 51 deaths in Idukki and 11 bodies were yet to be traced from areas affected by landslides. The district administration was running 233 relief centres sheltering more than 34,000 people. Kattapana-Kuttikanam road towards Kottayam and Kattapana-Cumbum road towards Tamil Nadu are operational now. As a bridge at Periyavara is damaged in Munnar – Marayur route and there is massive destruction of road connectivity in Munnar-Adimali-Kothamangalam road towards Ernakulam, Munnar remains isolated.The district headquarters in Idukki is also isolated.

Relief Operations

The Kerala State Disaster Management Authority has placed the state in a red alert as a result of the intense flooding. A number of water treatment plants were forced to cease pumping water, resulting in poor access to clean water, especially in northern districts of the region.  Over 4,000 relief camps have been opened at various locations to accommodate the flood victims. It is estimated that 1,028,073 people have found shelter in such camps.

Role of Defence Forces in Relief Operations

India’s Defence forces played a heroic role in Kerala over the past several days in rescuing people across the length and breadth of the state. Defence forces helped authorities in flood-hit Kerala in rescue and relief under Operation Madad. Sourthern Naval Command of the Indian Navy has deployed a total of 58 rescue and diving teams in multiple locations. The teams are equipped with Gemini boats. Some of the affected were marooned in their houses, some held up hands from their terraces to be airlifted, and many others sent social media messages from hospitals, homes or hostels where they were engulfed by the flood waters. Standing by their great tradition of saving the lives of the compatriots by risking their own lives, the acts of the Indian armed forces numbs and wets the eyes of any observer. The armed forces focused on some of the worst-hit areas in the state including Chengannur, Chalakkudy, Aluva and Angamaly. More than 3000 people have been rescued by the Navy and continuous efforts are on to bring flood-affected people to safety and to provide them food and water. Vijay Sharma, one of the pilots who has been at work for long hours over the past few days, told a television channel that there was also immense satisfaction that came along with the hard work. The naval forces also evacuated bunch of marooned people to safer places. In some areas, the army resorted to ingenuous methods like using tree trunks as temporary bridges to evacuate affected people. The services of the defence personnel have earned wide praise in the state and the whole of country. Salute to the brave sons of India!

Beauty of being human

K P Jaisal, the man who kneeled down for flood-victims to step on him and climb into a boat during rescue operations, has turned into a celebrity after a video of his generous act became viral. People from across the world have been showering words of appreciation on the 32-year-old fisherman from Chappapadi near Tanur in Malappuram. From a million thanks to cash donations to a new house, offers have been pouring in.He bent down to raise the spirits of an entire state. He saw a pregnant woman trying to ride a boat from waters and finding it difficult, he knelt down for her and all other women in the group so that they can ride the boat and save their lives. The man himself is ordinary and lives in a one room house with leaking roof at Sadham beach near Chettippadi, along with his wife and three children.

What after Rescue and relief

With rescue operations almost coming to an end in Kerala, the state government is now faced with the ominous task of restoring and repairing infrastructure that was destroyed in the floods and landslides. Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan sought Rs 2,600 crore assistance 9August 21) from the Centre for relief and rehabilitation work.  He also announced that the United Arab Emirates (UAE) will be contributing Rs 700 crore towards the flood relief efforts in the state. But despite the offer, the government may turn it down as India has not been accepting foreign aid money since 2004. In the past 14 years, India has refused aid from Russia, US and Japan for Uttarakhand floods in 2013, and for the Kashmir earthquake in 2005 and floods in Kashmir in 2014. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, during his visit last week, had announced an assistance of Rs 500 crore in addition to the Rs 100 crore announced by Home Minister Rajnath Singh.

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