God’s own country met with God’s fury killing hundreds, rendering hundreds of thousands homeless, turning roads into rivers and schools into refugee camps. As Kerala fights with this natural calamity, the tragedy seems more man-made than natural. The unprecedented floods following torrential rainfall left Kerala devastated. The calamity of this magnitude has happened after almost 100 years with last rival to such floods witnessed in 1924.
The floods were triggered by incessant rainfall over two and a half months accounting for 37 percent excess rainfall than the average. It is normal for Kerala to receive the highest rainfall in the country from monsoon but this unprecedented amount of high rainfall was a result of an unduly long spell of low pressure over the region which some environmentalist believe to be a result of global climate change.
While the excess rainfall caused the floods, man’s interference with nature is behind the aftermath that followed. Kerala government had ignored the 2011 Gadgil Committee report’s recommendations to protect the ecologically fragile regions in the Western Ghats. Maximum number of such fragile zones were marked in Kerala citing geographical as well as man-made factors such as quarrying, mining, illegal repurposing of forests and high-rise building constructions responsible for its vulnerability.
Environmentalists have blamed deforestation, extensive quarrying and mining, and land acquisition by private parties for the landslides caused after excessive downpour of rain. Cities that have been flooded are the ones that have been built on expanded farmlands blocking normal waterways. A month earlier, Kerala emerged as the worst performer among South Indian states in NITI Aayog’s Water Management Index. Today, it bears the brunt of unplanned urbanization and illegal construction of infrastructure.
Water level reached its peak throughout various dams across the state that caused the authorities to release water from at least 80 such dams. The water released from the dams further added to the misery causing more damage. But had the dam operators started releasing water in advance rather than waiting for dams to be filled up till when they had no alternative but to release the water , the damage could have been contained.
But the Kerala government is not alone to be blamed. Central government had earlier found Kerala to be among top 10 states vulnerable to flooding, yet Kerala gets no flood warning from the Central Water Commission, the only agency authorized to do so. Moreover, the central government is yet to declare the tragedy as a national disaster, doing so would enable the state to receive more funds and relief supplies.
Kerala floods are grim reminder of the sorry state of disaster management preparedness in the country. Had it been any other state, the results would have been more or less the same. Environmental disregard and lack of post-disaster infrastructure in terms of shelter arrangements and relief supplies are some issues that concerns every state. For a country, that is prone to floods as often as India, among the lessons to be learnt from Kerala is the dire need to raise environmental concerns and effective disaster management policies.