Kerala is facing its worst flood in 100 years; death toll climbs to 324

Roof of a house collapses following a flash flood, triggered by heavy rains, at Kodencheri in Kozhikode district of Kerala on Thursday
The Great Deluge of 99 — or 99le vellapokkam — is how Kerala remembers, through oral history, the horrors of the flood of 1924 (1099 in Malayalam Era), regarded as the worst in the recorded history of the region. Kerala was not a state then. 

Unprecedented rain this week in some districts of Kerala have left the state in the worst flood situation of the century. The flow of water in some stretches of the Periyar was 1,800 cubic metres — or about one swimming pool of water — per second, almost equal to that recorded in 1924 as recorded by the colonialists, state officials said. 

The impossibility of predicting the intensity of a deluge beforehand, the rise in extreme rainfall events since the second half of 20th century, and the dearth of inter-state cooperation when it comes to water disputes have manifested into yet another disaster, reminiscent of the Uttarakhand cloud burst and havoc of 2013 and Chennai floods of 2016. 

“Kerala is facing its worst flood in 100 years. 80 dams opened, 324 lives lost and 223,139 people are in about 1500+ relief camps,” chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan tweeted later in the day. However, given the intensity of the rain, at least a third of this crisis could have been averted, had Tamil Nadu (TN) heeded to the requests of Kerala. 

The Mullaperiyar dam, situated in Kerala but in the possession of TN, has the permission to maintain full reservoir level at 142 feet of the dam wall, as mandated by the Supreme Court. But Kerala, in its submission to SC had asked to make 139 feet the upper limit. 

Had the TN government started releasing water from the dam into Kerala when it had reached the critical level of 139 feet, the full blown crisis could have been averted to some extent, officials said. 

“The three feet make a lot of difference. They contain 792 million cubic feet of water, which when released translates into a flow of about 9,000 cubic feet per seconds (cusecs), which got added to the flow caused by the rain,” a senior official from the water resources department of Kerala told Business Standard. 

Mullaperiyar dam releases its water slowly into the Vaigai, and most of it, and at a faster rate, into the Idukki dam, where rainfall was the heaviest. This flooded the already full-to-brim Idukki dam, which releases water into the Periyar basin, where most of the casualties have occurred. 

A flow of 36,000 cusecs was recorded in parts of the Periyar on August 15, almost the highest ever. “The flow on August 16 was definitely more than that, but we await official figures,” said an official. 
Keeping the 3-feet buffer for the purpose of flexibility in times of flood in the Mullaperiyar could have improved the flood manoeuvring ability of the water, and averted the crisis, at least to some extent. 

The apex court, hearing a petition from a Kerala resident, ordered the release of the water on Friday. But this would have worked only as a preventive and not a curative measure, officials said.  The northern district of Idukki in Kerala recorded a massive 68 cm rainfall in a week to August 15, which is equivalent to two-thirds of the annual national average rainfall in India. The state, as a whole, received 30 per cent more rainfall than normal in that week, and the downpour did not stop until the night of August 16. 

The normal mark of seasonal rainfall of June-September had already been crossed as early as till August 16, in 11 of the 13 districts in the state. Idukki has received almost twice the rainfall it received till date. 

Scientists from Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology (IITM), Pune, have, since the 2005 deluge of Mumbai, shown from their research that there is an “alarming” rise in both the number and the intensity of extreme rainfall events in India, as a result of climate change. 

“The inter-annual variation of extreme rainfall in a single day shows highly significant rising trend during 1951-2007. The unprecedented rainfall on 26-27 July 2005 over the Mumbai Metropolitan city appears to be a realisation of this long-term trend,” Ashwini Ranade and Nityanand Singh of the IITM noted in a 2010 study. 

“Many places in India show an increasing tendency in the frequency of extreme hourly rainfall events, except for a few stations in Northeast India and the southern peninsula,” N R Deshpande and others noted in a 2011 study published in International Journal of Climatology. 

Water in dams built in rivers flowing west in Kerala (entering the Arabian Sea) is 50 per cent more than the average of 10 years today, according to data from the Central Water Commission.

Irdai asks firms to quickly settle claims in Kerala

Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority (Irdai) asked insurers to ensure reported claims are registered and eligible claims are settled expeditiously to give relief to those hit by heavy rains and floods in Kerala. There are reports of loss of human lives and belongings in the state. Insurers should take every possible step for quick and timely settlement of life insurance claims, Irdai said in communication to insurers.

They could consider using the process followed in the case of Chennai floods in 2015 for claims involving loss of life, where difficulty is experienced in obtaining a death certificate due to non-recovery of body.

Insurers can look at simplified process/procedure including relaxations in the usual requirements wherever feasible to expedite claims settlement. They should communicate details to media and regulator (Irdai) about special camps set up to enable immediate filing of claims.

Seeking weekly progress report on the claims settled for Kerala, the regulator said data on claims under Prime Minister's scheme should be submitted separately while including the same in total claims.

They should nominate a senior officer to act as a Nodal Officer for the state, to co-ordinate and expedite the settlement of all eligible claims that are reported in Kerala.

Insurers have to ensure all claims are surveyed immediately and claim payments and on account payments are disbursed early. They can immediately engage adequate number of surveyors in the affected districts.

All non-life insurers (including stand-alone health insurers) should submit information daily about insurance claims to gauge the magnitude of the loss in Kerala. The format for reporting will be communicated soon, Irdai said.

— BS Reporter

SC wants dam water lowered

The Supreme Court asked two crisis management panels to explore the possibility of reducing the water level at the Mullaperiyar Dam by 3 feet and asked Tamil Nadu to “scrupulously obey” any decision. It said it was leaving it to the executive to tackle the situation. It asked the National Crisis Management Committee and a committee to coordinate.PTI

Half of Karnataka faces drought

Even as parts of the state and neighbouring Kerala are reeling under floods, at least 16 districts in Karnataka have recorded deficient rainfall with the Centre mulling declaring them drought-hit. According to the revenue department, 4 districts in south interior and 12 in north interior Karnataka received less rainfall during the monsoon since June. Director of the state Natural Disaster Monitoring Centre Dr G S Srinivasa Reddy said the situation was bad in 10 of 12 districts in the north interior region. “We had a meeting where we discussed the issue of deficient rainfall in 16 districts. Barring seven districts in coastal and Malnad region, 10 out of 12 districts in north interior Karnataka are facing severe deficient rainfall,” he said.  — PTI

Air India Express to operate Kochi flights from nearby airports

Air India and Air India Express on Friday said their flights scheduled to depart from the Kochi airport will operate from Thiruvananthapuram and Kozhikode. While Air India said the new schedule, from Thiruvananthapuram, is for the August 18-20 period, AI Express said the new schedule will be effective till August 26, and the flights will depart from Thiruvananthapuram and Kozhikode.    

The rescheduled flights for Air India are AI 933 to Dubai, AI 047 to New Delhi, AI 682 to Mumbai, AI 511 to New Delhi and AI 510 to Chennai, a release said. Kochi-based Air India Express operates seven daily flights to the Middle East from the now-flooded airport. Of these, five services connecting Muscat, Salalah, Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Doha will be operated from Thiruvananthapuram, while those to Sharjah and Bahrain will be from Kozhikode airport in the north.

AI Express also announced waiver of all penalties for modifications, cancellations, no-show, sector change, along with full refund for cancellations. This facility will be applicable to all flights to and from all the Kerala airports till August 26. Against this, most private carriers have altogether cancelled their services to the commercial capital of Kerala, the seventh busiest airport in the country. — PTI