THAT SINKING FEELING
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