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Is Kerala flood a man-made disaster ?

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While Kerala is slowly limping back to normalcy, with the unprecedented flood, a new controversy has erupted that the flood was a man-made disaster. Many experts claim that 41.44% excess rainfall this time, which is linked to floods is not the reason for disaster rather the opening of shutters of 44 dams at the same time without offering any kinds of warning is the primary reason.

History of the highest Rainfall

The highest rainfall in Kerala around 1907, where it was 175 per cent higher than the usual average rainfall. It was almost 900 mm in the month of August then and this year, till August 21, the rainfall has been 780 mm which is around 140 percent in excess. The rainfall in Kerala in August is the second highest, but when it comes the overall rainfall for this monsoon season, then 1924 witnessed 64 per cent excess rainfall. In 1961, it rained 50 per cent more than normal season. Around 40 per cent excess rainfall was recorded in Kerala in 1923. This year's rainfall in Kerala from June to August 21 has already crossed 41 per cent more than normal. The season's average rainfall in Kerala is 2093 mm and till August 21, the rainfall was over 2387 mm. These figures are likely to change with 40 days of monsoon still left. In 1924, Kerala received 3000 mm of rainfall which is considered as the highest in its history. Rainfall in Idukki district of Kerala has recorded the highest in its history, which is around 1419 mm. It was last in 1907 that Idukki district received 1380 mm rainfall.

How it happened?

Kerala had received heavy monsoon rainfall on the evening of August 8 resulting in excess filling of dams. For the first time, in just 24 hours of rainfall the state received 310 mm (12 in) of rain. Excess rain force the authorities in all dams have been open since the water level had already risen close to overflow level due to heavy rainfall resulting flooding nearby areas. This has lead to the first time in the state's history, 35 of its 42 dams have been opened.

Mismanagement of Dams

Kerala has around 53 large dams with a capacity of nearly 7 trillion litres. As rain poured and the rivers overflowed, these dams should have served as a rampart wall. The two biggest dams, Idukki and Idamalayar dams have stored 21.3% of the Periyar’s (Kerala’s longest river) annual flow. But for dams to truly tame floods, many experts point out that these dam reservoirs need to be relatively empty before the onset of rains. Since it was not done in Kerala, it caused huge damage. The Idukki dam was already near full capacity by July-end, when the downpours arrived in August, the near full-capacity Idukki was forced to release water into already flooded areas and other low lying areas. Mullaiperiyar dam also released water in the flooded region. Besides, water was stored for electricity and irrigation, rather than flood control measures. One must remember, this is not an isolated incident, several of India’s floods, such as Bihar floods in 2016 and Surat floods which dates back to 2006, were due to the poor dam management. Even recently Chennai floods in 2015, which claimed more than 300 lives, violation of dam safety norms have been a critical factor, a CAG report found.

What are the reasons for mud and landslides?

Most of the regions impacted by flood were once classified as ecologically-sensitive zones (ESZs) by a report prepared by the Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel (WGEEP). The report was crafted by a team headed by Madhav Gadgil, ecologist and who is also the founder of the Centre for Ecological Sciences at the Indian Institute of Science (Bengaluru). The committee had suggested that 140,000 kilometres of the Western Ghats should be classified into three zones as per the requirement of environmental protection in the areas. In some areas, the committee recommended strong restrictions on mining and quarrying, use of land for non forest purposes, construction of high rises etc. Now many experts point out that quarrying is a major reason for the mudslides and landslides. Other environmentalists also listed out that the extensive quarrying, mushrooming of hotels, restaurants high rises as part of tourism and illegal forest land acquisition by private parties as major reasons for the recent calamity.

Amount of Rainfall (1'st June – 22nd August 2018)

Districts

Actual Rainfall (mm)

Normal Rainfall (mm)

Percentage Departure(%)

ALAPPUZHA

1784

1380.6

29

KANNUR

2573.3

2333.2

10

ERNAKULAM

2477.8

1680.4

47

IDUKKI

3555.5

1851.7

92

KASARAGODE

2287.1

2609.8

-12

KOLLAM

1579.3

1038.9

52

KOTTAYAM

2307

1531.1

51

KOZHIKODE

2898

2250.4

29

MALAPPURAM

2637.2

1761.9

50

PALAKKAD

2285.6

1321.7

73

PATHANAMTHITTA

1968

1357.5

45

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM

966.7

672.1

44

THRISSUR

2077.6

1824.2

14

WAYANAD

2884.5

2281.3

26

Source: Indian Meterological Department

Conclusion

While the nature cannot always be blamed for the kinds of calamities, the fault lies on our part. Dam mismanagement, illegal quarrying, illegal forest land acquisition by private parties for construction of resorts and other structure are the primary reason for the unprecedented flood in Kerala. Such disaster must a lesson for every state in the country, since Kerala facing huge economic loss of Rs 22,000 crores besides, losing 400 lives, with more than 1.3 million people in relief camps and more than two lakhs houses has been damaged.

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