As Kerala is hit by the worst flood since 1924, an analysis is continued to be made about what has happened. There were many reports that supported the fact that the disaster was not unforeseen. Is there something that could have been done to avoid this calamity? And, what now?
The monsoons of the year 2018 have not been a pleasant season for the people of Kerala. 12 out of 14 districts of this coastal Southern state of India faced the fury of, what is being called the worst flood since 1924. Around 400 people have lost their lives in a fortnight while at least 12 lakh people have been displaced and seeking shelters in relief camps. The state has lost around 9.6 lakh hectares worth of crops.
Is this purely a natural calamity!
Kerala as a whole has received 41 percent excess rain. During the period of June 1 to August 17, 2018, Idukki and Palakkad districts of Kerala have received 89 and 75 percent excess rainfall. Since the evening of August 8,2018, Kerala received 12.2 inches (310mm) of rain in just 24 hours. It is double the average amount of rain for the entire month of August. The unceasing rain has led the dams to be filled close to their maximum capacity. On August 9, 2018 the dam authorities were forced to open the five overflow gates of the Cheruthoni dam, a part of the Idukki reservoir comprising Cheruthoni, Kulamavu and Idukki arch dam. The water gushed out with full force, gobbling everything that fell in its way.
Is this a man-made calamity?
The aftermath analysis of this unfortunate event in Kerala is pointing an accusing finger towards the dam authorities. The Chief of Disaster Risk Reduction in the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), Murali Thummarukudy revealed in one of his articles that the dam authorities were warned on June 14 that the reservoirs will be filled to their maximum capacity in July. They have had an ample time to act. 20-40% of the flood damage could have been avoided if they would have opened the overflow gate sooner and have slowly released the water in a two-week period in July.
This was only the last straw that broke the camel’s back; there are other man-made factors as well, which have slowly led Kerala to such a state of devastation. The over-exploitation of natural resources like forests has created unsafe conditions for the state where they have no defence mechanism to cope with heavy rainfall. Illegal stone quarrying and mining have made the conditions worse. Landslides at the Western Ghats has increased due to the unregulated development and it has become a major cause of casualties during floods.
Climatic change is a perpetrator too
The climate study has highlighted the decline in the southwest monsoon but an increase in pre- and post-monsoon rainfall for the recent decades. The studies have also shown that the monsoons overall get wetter as the climate gets warmer. They have become unpredictable and uncontrollable.
The way Forward
Kerala is all shattered by this devastation. The help from all over the country and even from the outside world, is pouring in to provide food, sanitation and health facilities to the sufferers. Thousands of rescue personnel from Indian Navy, Army, Air Force, National Disaster Response Force (NDRF), Coast Guard, other CAPFs, have been deployed into service to rescue and evacuate people from the submerged areas and for the distribution of relief materials. Humanitarian organizations are also contributing to the relief operation.
There is a lot more to learn from this havoc in Kerala. The state government must curb the illegal quarrying, deforestation, mining, and violation of Wetlands Protection Rules. The flood has also raised questions over the safety and dam management in the state. CAG (Comptroller And Auditor General of India) audit of 2017 on dam safety reveals that Kerala has no integrated approach in identification of flood management works. Attention must also be made for setting up a proper drainage system for a better management of flood water.
Tackling health problems and disease outbreaks after the floods
The major challenge after a flood is to prevent the outbreak of diseases and health problems. Flood water contains sewage and pathogens that may cause water-borne diseases. The flooding increases the danger of malaria, diarrhoea, dengue, chikungunya, and leptospirosis (bacterial infection passed on to humans through contact with urine of animals such as dogs, rodents, and livestock). The injuries and infections are other health risks associated with the flood. Kerala has already recorded 846 cases of dengue fever, 1,91,945 cases of the acute diarrhoeal disease, 518 cases of malaria, 34 cases of chikungunya and 225 cases of leptospirosis.
On an advisory note, the Directorate of Health Services has asked public and medical workers in relief camps to take following measures:
- Clean and disinfect anything that has been in contact with the flood water.
- Treat even the smallest scratches with antiseptics.
- Be vigilant of the electric poles and broken wires.
- Wash your hands with clean water and soap as many times as you can or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol content.
- Keep yourself hydrated with ORS solutions or coconut water.
- Discontinue the use of taps in case the water is muddy.
- Drink only boiled water. If possible, use Chlorine or use a clean thin white cotton cloth to filter water.
- Refrain from self-treatment in case anyone develops fever or diarrhoea. Seek treatment at government health facilities, including medical camps.
Precautions to take while returning home after floods
- Any movements in the house after the flood must be made in the daylight.
- For tackling any emergence, take 2-3 people along while entering the house.
- Refrain from using too much force while opening bloated wooden doors; cement structures can collapse.
- Do not touch a dead body (human or animal) with your bare hands. Use gloves and cover up your mouth and nose.
- Open windows before going inside the house, to let the fresh air flowing.
- Don’t stay long if there is a foul smell.
- There may be a gas leak so do not use any candles or smoke cigarette.
- Reptiles like snakes and crocodiles that may have taken shelter inside cupboards, under the bed or the attic. Be careful.
- The rotten food (especially non-vegetarian) in the fridge may have produced dangerous gases like methane. Take care while opening the fridge as gas can exit with a force.
Sympathy From Chaitanya
Along with the whole country and the world, the people at Chaitanya Rainwater Harvest Products and Systems Pvt. Ltd. are with the people of Kerala and the families who have lost their dear ones in this catastrophe. We are deeply moved. The time has been very harsh.
We urge to the people of our country and outside, to come forward in great numbers and contribute financially or otherwise to support the rescue and relief operations in Kerala. Every single help will make a difference.