Leveraging lessons learnt from 2018, 2019 floods, a better prepared Kerala battles heavy rainfall

Nine dead so far, but state hopes its new decentralised disaster management action plan will see it cope better with floods this time.

BySreerag PS

Published Aug 02, 2022 | 10:12 AM Updated Aug 02, 2022 | 1:56 PM

Rain fury unleashed on Kerala (South First)

On 1 August, just a day after the heavens opened up, nine people had died, one person was missing, and some 60 houses fully or partially damaged in Kerala as the state girded up to once again to take on the fury unleashed by the monsoon.

The Chief Minister’s Office has declared a thunder alert for the next five days and a yellow alert for all the districts. Experts said that five days of extreme rainfall is expected starting from 1 August, and the situation could return to normalcy afterwards.

The collectors of seven of the state’s 14 districts have ordered the closure of all educational institutions on Tuesday, 2 August.

“Due to the cyclone, the speed of the monsoon winds has rapidly increased. The rains that we see now are due to this phenomenon. Also, the pattern of the clouds has also shifted from shallow clouds to cumulous clouds, this is the reason why we get more rain over short duration,” Abhilash S, associate professor, Department of Atmospheric Sciences, Cochin University of Science and Technology (CUSAT), told South First.

According to Abhilash, the hilly areas in the state may see higher rainfall and there is a need to be extremely cautious till 4 August.

The Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) said the southwest monsoon rainfall of India contributes 74.9 percent of the country’s annual rainfall. June, July, August, and September contribute 19.1 percent, 32.3 percent, 29.4 percent and 19.3 percent, respectively, to total southwest monsoon rainfall.

A better prepared government

 Purushan Eloor, a social activist who is at the forefront a movement to save the river Periyar, and whose house was washed away during the flood in 2018, said the government is better prepared this year to handle the floods. “There is no need to panic, especially for the people living near the banks of the Periyar,” he told South First.

Fahad Mazrook, a hazard analyst with the Kerala Disaster Management Authority, told South First that the government systems had learned from the floods in 2018 and 2019. “The state has been upgrading its measures to reduce flooding each year,” he said.

“Before the monsoon starts, every state conducts preparedness meetings. What Kerala does differently is that, since 2019, we publish a book — the Orange Book of Disaster Management — that issues directives to each department on how to prepare for the monsoon. This includes training for officers as well as relief and rehabilitation in an emergency,” said Mazrook.

Kerala is trying to build a resilient community, he added, and all the action plans of disaster management are decentralised. The state also collaborates and takes disaster management models from various agencies, including those of the Netherlands and Germany.

The curious case of Kerala’s dams

In August 2018, floods played havoc in the state, submerging large areas. Apart from unprecedented rains, the reason cited for that flood was the rising water levels in Kerala’s dams.

As shutters of the major dams were opened, a large number of people had to be evacuated from their homes. Also, due to the rampant encroachments near the rivers, the water carrying capacity of Kerala’s rivers were reduced. This in turn resulted in river water flowing into residential areas.

A petition was filed by ‘The Foundation for Restoration of National Value’ by its president E Sreedharan, the court appointed advocate Jacob P Alex as the amicus curie to study the reasons for the flood and dam management.

The report submitted to the court states: “None of the 79 dams in Kerala were operated or used for the purpose of flood control/moderation despite the obligations to utilise dams for flood control/moderation as per stipulations under National Water Policy, NDMA Guidelines on Flood, RTIOR and similar directives.”

Officials expect the flow from dams to be much better managed this year.

Despite the incessant rains, the government is confident it is better prepared this monsoon season.

Control rooms are operational in state, taluk and even panchayath levels. Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan himself visited the state-level control room on 1 August to take stock of the disaster management preparedness.