Tribal settlements in Kerala forests struggle amid rising temperatures

Kerala is experiencing its worst summer, with temperatures soaring high and affecting the normal lives of people not only in towns and villages but also in tribal settlements in dense forest regions of the state.
Tribal settlements in Kerala forests
Tribal settlements in Kerala forests

Thiruvananthapuram | Kerala is experiencing its worst summer, with temperatures soaring high and affecting the normal lives of people not only in towns and villages but also in tribal settlements in dense forest regions of the state. The Kani tribal settlement in Chenampara near Kottoor and situated in the valley of the Agasthyarkoodam Hills is considered one of the coolest spots in Thiruvananthapuram district.

However, the situation is far from good in this tribal settlement nestled deep inside the forest. The residents are unable to bear the heat and are struggling due to a water shortage.

"Children are falling sick due to the extreme heat and we do not even have enough water to bathe. We cannot sleep outside our houses to beat the heat due to threats from wild animals," Raju, a resident of the tribal settlement, told PTI.

There are nearly 28 tribal settlements in the Kuttichal and Kottoor areas, and a water shortage and extreme heat are creating havoc.

"We have never experienced such heat. Every year, we will have higher temperatures during these months, but not this extreme. Power failures are very common here, and we just cannot sleep at night due to the heat," Parippu, an elderly woman resident in the area, said.

She said the residents in the area collect drinking water using rubber hoses from water resources further deep inside the jungle. "When the wild animals destroy that, we do not have an alternative source for drinking water," Surendran Kani, another resident, said.

Even the animals are feeling the heat and are camping near the water holes inside the forest, the residents say, making it difficult for them to go and take a bath in these areas.

Kottoor has one of the biggest elephant rehabilitation centres in the state, and the authorities are letting the elephants get inside the Neyyar dam water to cool off and also spraying water on them to help them beat the heat.

"We are taking steps to cool off the animals. On the menu, we include fruits like watermelons. We also spray water on the animals inside the shelter and often cover them with wet rucksacks," Aneesh GR, Forest Range Officer of the Elephant Rehabilitation Centre, Kuppukad, told PTI.

There are 16 elephants in the camp; out of them, seven are juveniles. The mahouts regularly wash them to help them beat the heat. An in-house veterinarian is also monitoring the health of the animals regularly.

An official of the Indian Meteorological Department said the average temperatures in comparison with the corresponding period last year saw an average deviation of above 4.5 degrees Celsius and an orange alert has to be issued in Palakkad.

If the high temperatures recorded on Tuesday continue over the following days, there is a possibility that heatwave alerts or declarations will be issued for the districts of Alappuzha, Thrissur, and Kollam.

Deaths due to sunstroke have been reported in Palakkad and Kannur districts.

"The extreme heat situation will continue for another three days in Kerala. This is because of the weakening of El Nino. Humidity also plays an important role in increasing the heat index in Kerala," Dr V K Mini, director-in-charge, IMD, Thiruvananthapuram, told PTI.

A heatwave is declared when there is an increase of 4.5 degrees Celsius from the normal temperature and if it persists for 48 hours. She said many districts in Kerala witnessed an increase of 3 to 5 degrees Celsius in average temperature compared to the corresponding period last year.

The Kerala State Disaster Management Authority has been issuing regular public advisories to prevent any untoward incidents due to the extreme heat. The Kerala health department has also asked the district medical officers to monitor the situation closely in their respective districts and open heat clinics if necessary.

Kerala Health Minister Veena George said that she held a high-level meeting to discuss the situation.

"We are closely monitoring the situation. We have asked all stakeholders to take extra care as heatwaves could be dangerous, especially to the elderly, children, and people with comorbidities," Veena George told PTI.

She said even panchayat secretaries and health workers have been told to take care of the situation and requested people who suspect any symptoms of heat stroke to immediately consult a doctor.

Health advisories have also been issued to workers who work in the open to regulate their work and reduce exposure to the sun. "Our advice to everyone is to avoid direct exposure to the sun. The problem with heat stroke is that it can affect a person even if he is sitting in a shade in the open," George said.

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