NEWS
09/08/2019 3:37 PM IST

Kerala On Red Alert As Heavy Rain Hits State Just One Year After Deadly Floods

Just a few weeks ago, Malayalis were wondering if they would face a water shortage, given the scanty monsoon rainfall since 1 June. Now that doubt has turned to fear again.

Sivaram V / Reuters
Members of a rescue team row a boat towards a submerged temple to look for a man believed to be stranded inside the temple on the outskirts of Kochi in Kerala on Thursday.

Exactly a year after the massive flood of 2018, which killed hundreds and left many more homeless, Kerala is staring at an unfortunately similar situation once again. 

Many train services have been cancelled, red alerts have been issued in nine out of 14 districts in the state, and shutters of major dams have been opened. Audio and video clips with pleas for help have begun circulating on social media again, many of them from a plantation village called Puthumala, near Meppadi in Wayanad district, where a massive landslide buried a large area under debris on Thursday. While four dead bodies, including those of a woman and a child, were recovered on Friday morning, there are fears that the death toll could be much higher, as many people are still missing. 

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Though relief forces have been stepped up in the region for rescue and rehabilitation efforts and over 200 people have been evacuated, a number of houses and shops are still buried under mud and rubble, and heavy rains and road blockades have been hampering the operations.

Even as this report was being written, reports have come in of another massive landslide in Malappuram’s Nilambur, in which more than 50 people are missing. 22 people have been declared dead until now, and 315 relief camps have been opened across the state, sheltering more than 22,000 people.

Last year’s flood happened almost 100 years after a similar kind of deluge. Now it is turning into an annual affair, rattling the whole state."Gopakumar Cholayil, a faculty member at Kerala Agriculture University

Just a few weeks ago, Malayalis were wondering if they would have enough water for drinking and agricultural needs, given the scanty rainfall they had received since the onset of the Southwest monsoon on June 1. Now that doubt has turned to fear again, especially cruel for a state that has still not completely recovered from last year’s deadly deluge.  

“The situation sounds alarming. Last year’s flood happened almost 100 years after a similar kind of deluge. Now it is turning into an annual affair, rattling the whole state,’’ said Gopakumar Cholayil, a faculty member at Kerala Agriculture University who has worked on the changing rain patterns of the state.

Like last year, it’s the central and northern parts of the state that have borne the brunt of the heavy rains so far.

“It is a repetition of the same that occurred in 2018 floods. Central and northern districts were badly affected on Thursday but the deaths and destructions have started extending to other parts of the state on Friday,’’ said Gopinath Parayil, a rescue worker now engaged in relief work in Wayanad.

Familiar scenes, fake news and water problems

Roads have turned into streams in many parts of the state while rivers have begun overflowing. Buildings and bridges are collapsing while houses are half under water. There are power outages in many parts of the state, and cattle and domestic animals left behind by their owners are waiting, terrified, as the water levels rise. Thousands of people have been landing up at makeshift rehabilitation camps, mainly government schools.

One of the major hindrances faced by the rescue operations is the spread of false information, especially on social media, which is forcing people to run away even from safe places. 

“An immediate necessity is sharing the right message. Share only the reliable information on social media. Follow only official announcements,’’ Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan has said on TV channels. 

Despite the heavy downpour at present, experts say Kerala is now witnessing 30% decrease in rain availability since 1980.

According to Gopakumar, rain patterns in Kerala have changed drastically in the recent years. “Earlier, June was the rainiest month in the state with 650 mm of rain. But in the last two years, June and July saw scanty rainfall. It seems the monsoon calendar now begins by August,’’ he said. 

Despite the heavy downpour at present, experts say Kerala is now witnessing 30% decrease in rain availability since 1980. They are also warning about the possibility of dry days after this deluge in the state, which used to receive copious rains almost for ten months in a year. 

Environmentalists have pointed out many reasons for the large-scale devastation happening in the state during floods. Illegal constructions and changes in land-use patterns have made the  situation worse in areas such as Idukki and Wayanad. Forest cover in the state has decreased and rice fields have been reclaimed widely for commercial us. 

According to V. P. Dinesan, senior scientist at the Kozhikode-based Centre for Water Resources Development and Management (CWRDM), the deluge would not only create misery but also cause huge water problems in the coming months. 

“Despite the heavy rains, water is not getting stored in the earth across Kerala. The flood that occurred during last August had washed away all the sand-bed sediments in Kerala rivers and filled them with alluvium sediment. Such a situation is preventing the rainwater from percolating into the earth. All the rainwater that falls on the state reaches the sea within 24 hours,” he said.