THAT SINK­ING FEEL­ING

India Today - - INSIDE - By Jeemon Ja­cob with Amar­nath K. Menon

An un­prece­dented hu­man­i­tar­ian cri­sis stares Ker­ala in the face. What will re­build­ing the state en­tail?

Ex­cess rain­fall, dam mis­man­age­ment and eco­log­i­cal ne­glect re­sult in Ker­ala’s worst flood in a hun­dred years. A heroic res­cue ef­fort not­with­stand­ing, the state now faces the chal­lenge of re­build­ing on an un­prece­dented scale

The worst floods in close to a cen­tury sub­merged Ker­ala be­tween Au­gust 8 and 16, killing over 400 per­sons and dis­plac­ing over 720,000, roughly equal to the pop­u­la­tion of Puducherry. In the month of Au­gust (1-20), the state re­ceived 771 mm of rain­fall, 179 per cent more than usual. The in­ces­sant rain meant that 78 of the state’s 80 dams, in­clud­ing the ones at Mul­laperi­yar and Idukki on the Western Ghats, were filled to the brim and hence forced to open their sluice gates. This sud­den on­rush of water led to the flood­ing of Er­naku­lam, Idukki, Kot­tayam, Pathanamth­itta, Alap­puzha and Thris­sur dis­tricts down­stream. Ker­ala is In­dia’s most densely pop­u­lated state with an av­er­age of 860 per­sons per square kilo­me­tre (the na­tional av­er­age is 450.42 per­sons). Over 40,000 hectares of farm­land was sub­merged and 26,000 houses se­verely dam­aged and one of the state’s three in­ter­na­tional air­ports at Kochi in­un­dated by flood­wa­ters. It’s the first time in the his­tory of the state that its high­land, cities and lower plains were all hit by floods.

For 10 days, the state wit­nessed a heroic res­cue op­er­a­tion. The air force, navy and coast guard pi­lots flew their he­li­copters in per­ilous con­di­tions to res­cue sur­vivors while on the ground nearly 5,000 fish­er­men joined in with over 450 boats. Now, as the water re­cedes from flood-af­fected re­gions, rail and road traf­fic limps back to nor­mal and flights op­er­ate from the Kochi naval air­base, the state gets down to the dif­fi­cult task of re­con­struc­tion. Chief Min­is­ter Pi­narayi Vi­jayan es­ti­mates it will take over Rs 20,000 crore to nurse Ker­ala back to nor­malcy. This is more than half the state’s en­tire Rs 37,248 crore plan out­lay for this year and twice what it spends each year on roads and bridges.

“It (flood re­lief) will ad­versely af­fect the state’s de­vel­op­ment plan,” Vi­jayan ad­mits. Gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials pre­dict a two-year pe­riod for the state to re­cover from the catas­tro­phe. Ev­ery sec­tor of its econ­omy—tourism, health, water re­sources, roads, agri­cul­ture, tra­di­tional in­dus­tries, power trans­mis­sion—has been hit. So much so that the im­pact of other re­cent scares like Cy­clone

RAJ K. RAJ/ GETTY IMAGES

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