Kerala Flood and Rescue operation

Perhaps one of the worst natural disasters strikes in southern India with Kerala bearing a major brunt of it. The state has encountered heavy damages with the major losses in both life and property. Horribly, the flood has resulted in the deaths of 360 people so far.

Kerala floods
Kerala floods, Image credit: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Pala_during_2018_Kerala_floods_02.jpg

Being a developed state, Kerala had formulated a powerful disaster management plan. However, it has many vulnerable areas to natural calamities. Nearly, one million people have migrated and are trying to find assistance after dams were flooded with rain.  Here are some top reasons why the flash flood has resulted in huge damages in Kerala:

Reasons:

Flash floods can occur when rain from storm concentrate in an area in a short period of time. Within six hours of rainfall, it has damaged the built-up areas where streets gush like rivers, running water that carries cars, ferrying debris and much more. The flash flood is a slow process as it takes time to penetrate the ground and raises the water level. It is common in built up and low lying areas. Kerala is one of the most beautiful states that is blessed with good weather conditions. The four-month monsoon season induces rainfall along the Indian subcontinent.

  • Local officials are also the main cause because it is the sole responsibility of the local authority to check and open the dams regularly instead of waiting until the dam was full. Local officials have been blamed for this situation in many areas. Warnings were not sent with the utmost care. The system has been damaged aggressively. Apart from these factors, western ghats had contributed much to the heavy rains. The western ghat runs parallel to the west coast. So, it has played a vital role in increasing the rainfall along the west coast.

 Mitigation and Steps for Prevention

Kerala had experienced the same disaster in 2011. Prevention is better than cure. The Gadgil committee had set some milestones and imposed rules for preserving the ecology and sensitive region across the Arabian sea. Unfortunately, those preventive measures were not implemented.  Madhav Gadgil, Pune based ecologist has argued that the state would have been better prepared if the preventive measures were implemented in 2011.

Gadgil committee defined the significance of ecological management.  The boundaries of western ghat were around 1,29,037 square km, with 1,490 km running from north to south. The width of the western ghat has extended from Tamilnadu to Maharastra. The committee had proposed that the whole area be considered as Ecological sensitive area, ESA. Of that area, some part was identified as an ecologically sensitive zone (ESZ). Depending upon the nature of the threat, the ecologically sensitive zones were discovered and categorized as ESZ I, II, III.  Finally, the entire western ghats were divided into 2200 grids, of which 75% would fall under ESZ I or ESZ II. Some of the areas that fall under ESZ II are already protected where wildlife sanctuaries and tourist destination are there.  Plastic items like plastic keys and bags should be prohibited in the state. No hill stations or economic zones are to be allowed. Converting public lands to private lands should be strictly prohibited.  No New dams to be allowed in ESZ I. Thermal power stations should be banned. The government should not support large wind power

Cultivation of hybrid species was banned in those areas. No new hill stations were to be allowed. No new mining license to be allowed. Thermal plants were also prohibited.  No railway rules were to be followed in ESI II. The government was to impose strict regulations regarding tourism and power generation. Strict regulations were also to be followed for new projects such as a new dam, mines, housing, tourism etc. Chemical pesticides had been prohibited.

In the year of 2016, Kasturi Rangan committee was put forth because no state was ready to accept the recommendations of the Gadgil committee. The Kasturi committee came up with a watered down version of recommendations in Kerala. The team had to find out the vulnerable areas, which were ecologically sensitive and are prone to disaster. Finally, it had stated that around 37 percent of the western ghats as vulnerable & sensitive area.  Interestingly, 37 percent amounts to 60,000 square meters but the environment minister stated that about 57,000 square meters were only ecologically sensitive. And, some construction activities like mining, digging and constructing buildings were banned in that area. Despite the strict rules in the western ghat, some areas were open to all kind of building activities like mining, constructing dams etc.

The reservoirs in the catchment area also worsen the environment. Gadgil report had stated that reservoirs in the steep valley in the western ghats were polluted due to deforestation and massive encroachment.  Idukki dam is one such instance where the whole catchment area was destructed due to the dam construction.  Not many have recovered and still large number of people are longing for help and cure. Fortunately, the central government has awarded 600 crore fund for the disaster management. Every year, some state has severely damaged with flood, storm and other disasters. Receiving a disaster fund will be extremely helpful in terms of offering food, water, shelter etc. However, an immediate step is required to recover every single person else death due to disaster cannot be ruled out.

What is needed is a comprehensive strategy that puts environmental conservation at its core rather than giving precedence to development. Otherwise, states like Goa could be next. India should learn soon from its mistakes. Development at the cost of environment and human lives should not be pursued in independent India. No amount of economic prosperity is enough if a natural disaster can claim such huge losses in a developed state. It shows that in the battle for development, the governments have failed the people.

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