Dr Georgina Drew, Senior Lecturer of Anthropology and Development Studies at the University of Adelaide, authored this guest article.
Week-long rains that began on August 8 have caused the worst flooding to hit the state of Kerala in a century. The massive deluge has killed over 350 to date and has displaced hundreds of thousands, with some reports putting the number of displaced persons close to a million. While several thousand relief camps have sprung up to accommodate the people fleeing the destruction, not everyone has been able to evacuate in time to avail of these services. The rescue and treatment of stranded residents is a top priority as municipal and central government officials work to coordinate their relief efforts.
In many locations, the floods have disrupted the flow of clean, treated water through municipal pipes. Stored water has had to be rationed and households that can afford to have purchased purified water in litre bottles or in 20-litre cans. Food supplies have also been disrupted as roads were blocked or submerged underneath a metre or more of rainwater. While some roads will soon be reopened, the price of basic goods may rise due to limited supplies as much of the state’s provisions are imported. Such a price hike will impact the poorest Keralites disproportionately. This will expose low-income families to ongoing health risks even after the floodwaters lessen.
In addition to the disruption of life and the scarcity of resources, the flooding has inundated homes, collapsed bridges, destroyed key transportation and utility services, and triggered deadly landslides. While there is no accurate estimate that can reliably be given to quantify the loss of infrastructure, reports have put the figure at several billion dollars.
Even the Kochi international airport was turned into a lake when the overflows from a nearby river inundated what was once a floodplain. This caused the airport to shut down for close to two weeks, and there are fears of extensive tarmac damage. It is possible that there may also have been damage to the solar panels that previously supplied the majority of the airport’s power in a landmark effort to make it one of the most sustainable air travel facilities in the country. This is just one example of the herculean repair and reconstruction efforts that await once the rains have fully abated.
While the worst is hopefully over, the rains are expected to continue with unpredictable outcomes. In the interim, ground-based relief operations are in full swing. Citizens, neighbourhood associations, and non-profit and municipal organisations are orchestrating a range of outreach operations to disseminate food and medicine, and to coordinate medical care for the ill and wounded. Given the severity and extent of the floods, much more help is needed. And for those that have lost everything, there is no clear indication of how they will recover their livelihoods once this particularly ferocious monsoon season has passed.
This is an extraordinary time for the people of Kerala, and for all friends of India. Generous donations are requested to help alleviate the suffering of those in need. The following organisations are collecting donations for relief efforts: