Floods in Kerala are not a normal phenomenon the way they are in parts of UP and Bihar, and even Uttarahand. After decades, Kerala has been ravaged by one of the worst floods in its history. It has claimed over 240 lives and devastated a very large part of the State. Tens of thousands have been rendered homeless and have had to be moved to temporary shelters while property worth tens of thousands of crores have been destroyed. The flood fury has now begun to recede with the meteorological authorities predicting a no-rain break for the next couple of days. However, as the waters recede, the bigger threat of disease and other health hazards persists.
The scarcity of drinking water and hygienic conditions aside, pot water contamination with sewage and chemicals can cause stomach and skin diseases and can also cause eye infections. Authorities will have to undertake quick steps for relief and rehabilitation of the victims. The prime minister has announced a relief package of Rs 500 crores after visiting the flood-hit state. Other official and voluntary organisations, too, have risen to the occasion, collecting donations and other relief material. A nation-wide effort to collect funds for the flood-hit is underway. Indeed, even in the UAE, which hosts a number of workers from Kerala, an effort to collect money for the flood-victims has gathered momentum. Yet, the need to study the reasons behind the worst floods in Kerala in several decades cannot be put off by a day. Independent experts are agreed that largely it is a man-made disaster. Excessive rains this year filled up the reservoirs early this year.
Dams and barrages are old and creaking with the sheer force of flood waters. But lack of coordination between the adjoining States on the release of excess waters aggravated the problem. Several years ago, environmental experts had warned that all the six States in the ecologically sensitive Western Ghats region were ignoring basic steps to avoid natural disasters. Unregulated and excessive industrial and mining activity in the six States, including Kerala, worsened the natural environment in the region. Unorganised housing boom and the aging dams and bunds increased the magnitude of the human disaster. Sustainable development was abandoned for reckless and haphazard construction boom. Mitigation measures listed in the National Disaster Management Policy were given scant heed. Private housing boom in Kerala thanks largely to the money-order economy from the Middle East was a major contributory factor. Of course, climate change is a factor in unexpected natural disasters in regions which hitherto were largely free from such phenomena. Happily, there has been no partisan politics over the Kerala floods. The army and the national disaster agency personnel were pressed into Kerala immediately. Bur the long-term mitigation of the threat from such largely man-made tragedies a sustainable development model is required — and a reckless exploitation of the natural resources and environment for excessive greed must end immediately.