The Kerala havoc

A sustained and intense downpour of the kind seldom witnessed in 100 years may be the immediate cause of the unusually devastating floods in Kerala, but the contribution of man-made factors to this calamity cannot be disregarded. Widespread deforestation, rampant construction and indiscriminate quarrying have triggered landslides, which have obstructed water channels, worsening the deluge. Besides, the lack of coordination in water releases from dams in Kerala and the adjoining states has further aggravated the situation, and even hampering the rescue and relief operations. Most reservoirs got filled up earlier than usual this year due to excessive rain. Yet the operation of their floodgates was not appropriately regulated and coordinated to avoid heavy discharges during actual flooding. The state government also seems guilty of not taking some of the routine risk mitigation measures enumerated in the National Disaster Management Policy. Similar mistakes should at least be avoided in staving off disease outbreaks that normally ensue from floods.

Nevertheless, Kerala is not the only victim of torrential rain in the current monsoon season. Several parts of neighbouring Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh are either reeling from floods or facing the threat. Almost all the 80-odd dams of the region are brimming over. The governments of these states are unable to evolve a common plan for releasing the excess water. This is a critical issue involving the safety of the dams, most of which are overage. The Supreme Court had to intervene to order a reduction in the water level of the 116-year-old Mullaperiyar dam. The discharge of this water can potentially worsen the flood situation if the matter is not handled skilfully. This aside, seven other states — Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, West Bengal, Gujarat, Assam, Nagaland and Odisha — have also witnessed devastation due to floods, landslides and other rain-related incidents. More damage cannot be ruled out since the rainy season is still at its peak.

Floods, indeed, seem to have become an integral feature of the monsoon season. Inadequate flood-proofing effort is partly to blame for this. While in other countries dams and barrages are built to ward off floods, in India, they tend to serve the opposite purpose because of unprofessional management of the impounded waters. Besides, the country’s flood forecasting system, too, is below par and needs to be revamped. Significantly, climate change is also playing a role in aggravating this menace. The projections made by a global panel on climate change indicate that the overall rainfall in the Indian subcontinent is likely to increase by 10 per cent in terms of both quantity and intensity by 2050. Some evidence of it is already noticeable by way of increased frequency of extreme weather events, such as the unprecedented rainfall and cloudbursts in Kerala this year and in Uttarakhand, Jammu and Kashmir, and Maharashtra earlier. With the unabated degradation of river catchments and heavy siltation of water bodies, the incidence of such episodes is set to exacerbate. This has necessitated substantial enhancement in the efficiency and reliability of the weather- and flood-forecasting systems to forewarn civic administrations of impending disasters for timely relief action. Besides, a flood code having ready-to-use contingency plans to cope with inundation, on the lines of the existing drought code, is badly needed for all flood-prone areas. Otherwise, Kerala-like calamities may continue to recur.

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