Kerala, undisputedly, is one of the most beautiful places in India. On 10th June, 2018, the state declared that the Nipah virus outbreak, which lasted for a month and claimed 17 lives, was finally contained. If one calamity wasn’t enough in a season, the state, nicknamed “God’s Own Country”, was then hit by torrential rainfall during the monsoons. Receiving over 82 inches of rainfall, 30% higher than average, the state witnessed its worst flood in over a century.
The last time Kerala experienced floods of this proportion was in 1924, when 133 inches of rainfall deluged the state – taking the lives of more than 1,000 people. This time, according to NASA’s estimates from satellite data, the week between August 13th and 20th witnessed two bands of heavy rainfall. The broader first band, associated with the general monsoon circulation, resulted in 14 inches of rainfall over Bay of Bengal in the east and 5 inches over the Western Ghats in Kerala and Karnataka. The more concentrated second band was enhanced by an area of low pressure embedded within the monsoon, and, together with the first band, caused 16 inches of rainfall over major parts of Kerala.
As a result of receiving 16 inches of rainfall in a week, the water level of Kerala’s rivers and reservoirs increased rapidly. The state has 44 rivers flowing through it, and 42 reservoirs spread along the river channels. As 35 reservoirs reached their maximum capacity, authorities simultaneously released water from all of them. The released water inundated a large swath of low-lying Kerala floodplains. Also, owing to deforestation in ecologically-sensitive zones (ESZs), the heavy rainfall managed to trigger several landslides.
The flood has resulted in the loss of 400 lives across the state. While a million people have been displaced, thousands are still stranded, awaiting rescue. Several relief camps have been set up in Kerala and its neighboring states to cater to the people whose homes have been flooded. Agricultural crops, spanning over 906,400 hectares, has also been destroyed by the flood. The disaster is estimated to have resulted in a loss of more than $2 billion.
A July 2018 report had ranked Kerala poorly in the effective management of water resources. While the state government lacked preparation to tackle heavy monsoon bursts, the lack of flood forecasting stations in the state prevented the federal government operated Central Water Commission (CWC) to issue a prior flood warning. In addition to these, the poor management of reservoirs by authorities has also contributed to the deluge. Himanshu Thakkar, a water expert at the South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People, has said, “This could have been avoided if the dam operators had started releasing water in advance rather than waiting for dams to be filled up, when they have no alternative but to release all the water at once.”
More than 52 rescue teams, including units of Indian Army, Indian Navy, and Kerala Police have joined the bandwagon to save every last stranded person. In addition to donations from major national and international corporations, the Indian Government has also chipped in a substantial amount for humanitarian aid. Common people have also reverted to the use of Social Media to raise funds, collect and distribute food and clothes, offer shelter to the stranded, and coordinate search and rescue operations.
With human-induced global warming predicted to increase the frequency of floods across the world, the Indian Government should take appropriate steps to ensure such a disaster is not repeated in the future. Proper management of reservoir operations, along with sound flood forecasting systems can be the key to ensure people don’t lose their livelihood.