Rain deficient, but room for deluge and disaster left wide open

A mere hour of torrential rain can submerge an entire region, like the one recently witnessed in Kalamassery. The unchecked sprawl of unscientific constructions demands a thorough re-evaluation of Kerala's development trajectory, especially in the wake of climate change coming to stay.
Rain deficient, but room for deluge and disaster left wide open
Rain deficient, but room for deluge and disaster left wide openRepresentative image


Instances of roads caving in, sidewalls crumbling, landslides and flooding within a few hours of rain have been abundant this June, despite a 25 per cent deficiency in rainfall in the first month of the monsoon. While authorities steadfastly refuse to acknowledge any lapses, whether technical or unscientific, the people are left to shudder at the mere thought of a shower in Kerala, once celebrated for its enchanting monsoon.

All 14 districts of the State have experienced a shortfall, with Thiruvananthapuram having 18 per cent deficiency and Ernakulam and Idukki exceeding the 30-per cent mark.

The erratic spatial distribution of rainfall and dramatic fluctuations in volume due to cloud bursts too, have left the State vulnerable to major disasters, including flooding, tidal waves surge and resultant sea incursions, collapsing sidewalls of newly constructed roads and landslides. These alarming events, often attributed to climate change, call for a critical re-evaluation of the development agenda.

The colossal constructions, including expansive highway projects, have exacerbated the misery of the people during heavy rains. Climatologists attribute this to the failure of authorities to consider hydrology in their plans. The land use patterns have significantly altered, particularly with highway construction, disrupting perennial streams that once flowed freely year-round. Geologists highlight the recent collapse of a concrete sidewall on the highway in Kannur as a glaring example. The absence of weep holes, essential for allowing water to escape, has led to such failures. Proper piping has been neglected in these grand projects, disregarding the natural water flow. Landslides as part of deforestation have come to stay in Kerala which has another three months of the monsoon season left.

Massive urbanization projects, often executed without proper drainage systems, combined with the encroachment of marshy lands and mangroves - nature's water reservoirs - inevitably lead to monsoon flooding. The State Government, in its quest for progress, has diluted wetland laws, allowing for the filling of paddy fields - long revered as exemplars of watershed management. This move has left many lamenting the loss of these natural reservoirs that have, for ages, safeguarded the delicate balance of our ecosystem.

Moreover, the Western Ghats have witnessed significant anthropogenic changes. Extensive mining activities, driven by both public and private construction, coupled with tree felling have scarred these hilly tracts. CP Rajendran of the Bengaluru-based National Institute of Advanced Studies, and Director of the Consortium for Sustainable Development in Connecticut in the US, observes that stone-mining now occupies more than 10 per cent of the country's total area, with the Western Ghats being a major contributor to this figure. The quarrying area along the Western Ghats was over 8,000 hectares, a good part being in Central Kerala which has been witnessing gory landslips.

Kerala, with its hilly terrain, midlands, and extensive coastal belt, faces the relentless rise of sea levels, estimated at 3 mm per year. This oversight has led to massive tidal waves, sea surges, coastal erosion, and flooding of seaside areas. Abandoned houses now dot the Chavakkad belt in Thrissur as also Edavanakkad in Ernakulam, bearing silent witness to the encroaching waters. The residents, living in perpetual fear, brace themselves for the imminent threat of inundation that looms with every wave.

Ironically, this unfolds even when there are daily scientific weather updates, giving sufficient time for the authorities to take timely action. The flood of disasters heralds the call for a profound reassessment of our current development paradigm. It is imperative to integrate the inescapable reality of climate change into our planning, acknowledging its enduring presence and influence on our lives in the days ahead.

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