A National Disaster, But the Nation Does Not Seem​ to Notice

Kerala’s picturesque landscape dotted with 44 rivers, 30 tributaries, 42 dams and 1500 km of backwater canals has been ravaged by the torrential downpour which when combined with the opening of 35 dams has caused the state to witness unprecedented flood havoc, as gushing waters from the reservoirs flood vast stretches of low-lying areas and turbid rivers further compound the gravity of the situation. The ongoing turmoil revisits memories of the 1924 deluge, popularly referred to as ‘The Great Flood of 99’ (in accordance with the Malayalam calendar, it occurred in the year 1099) in which the heavy rains caused the entire hilltown of Munnar to be submerged under water.

The death toll has mounted to over 350 and around 3.5 lakh people are lodged in the 2000 relief camps across the state.

The Indian Meteorological Department records that Kerala received 2227.26 mm of rainfall between 1st June and 16th August, 37.4% more than the season average with 6 districts receiving 40% excess rainfall and the Idukki district receiving a whopping 83.59% excess at 3211.06 mm. The death toll has mounted to over 350 and around 3.5 lakh people are lodged in the 2000 relief camps across the state.

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In the light of the magnitude of damage unleashed to life and property and the enormous costs that reconstruction entails, many feel that the allocation of funds for flood relief by the Centre has been far from adequate. Since 14th August, the Centre has announced a total of 760 crores as relief to the state. Home Minister Rajnath Singh and a central team had assured an interim relief of 100 crores to be immediately disbursed to the state, following their visit when the first spell of monsoon proved calamitous by claiming 37 lives, displacing around 30,000 people and was concentrated in about half of the 14 districts. The estimated losses at the time were pinned at 8,316 crores. Subsequently, a 100 crore aid was announced by Kiren Rijiju, the Union Minister of State for Home Affairs followed by another 60 crores from a delegation from the Centre who had visited the state to take stock of the situation. The Prime Minister conducted an aerial survey of the rain-ravaged state on 18th August and announced a 500 crore as financial assistance for relief. Amidst claims by insiders that only 80 crores out of the total 760 crores have reached Kerala, the primary allocation sought by the State as detailed in the memorandum submitted to the Central Government was around 1220 crore. Recalling a similar treatment meted out when the Kerala Government sought 7000 crores to undertake relief work post the Ockhi Cyclone which affected the fisherfolk and was allocated only 820 crores, led to several sections of the civil society slamming the Centre for allowing political considerations supersede humanitarian concerns. The discussion soon acquired political flavour as opposition parties vocally expressed their resentment at the Government’s scepticism to declare the Kerala floods as a ‘national disaster’.

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The abysmal coverage of ‘Kerala’s worst-ever calamity in almost a century’ on national media attracted censure from several quarters. Shashi Tharoor, Lok Sabha MP from Trivandrum, tweeted that the attention by the media seemed to be inversely related to the distance from Delhi. As the national media dissected the Prime Minister’s Independence Day speech, delved on the demise of a former Prime Minister, speculated on Priyanka Chopra and Nick Jonas’ impending engagement and other TRP boosters, thousands of people stranded in their homes with no electricity, water or food took to social media as distress helplines also remained perpetually busy. The national media did not deem the large-scale disaster worthy of a ticker of helpline numbers or ‘prime-time’ until very late.

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American writer Jim Wallis’ words, “Sometimes it takes a natural disaster to reveal a social disaster” came to mind when hate-mongers ran social-media campaigns against donating to the CM’s Relief Fund because ‘the land of beef-eaters deserves it’. The barrage of hatred encountered on social media as calls urging for contributions to the relief operations in cash, kind or person poured in, was vicious and disenchanting. The circulators of fake news, who gullibly forwarded the WhatsApp messages of false claims of cracks in the 123-year old Mullaperiyar dam, looming fuel shortage, baseless weather forecasts or a state-wide power cut only heightened panic and grief in this dire situation.

As the national media dissected the Prime Minister’s Independence Day speech, delved on the demise of a former Prime Minister, speculated on Priyanka Chopra and Nick Jonas’ impending engagement and other TRP boosters, thousands of people were stranded in their homes with no electricity, water or food.

The extent of the loss Kerala is bound to suffer is not confined to the material nature alone. The mammoth task of rehabilitation of victims remains even after the floods subside. The capacity of a tiny state like Kerala to mobilise huge amounts of tax revenue to rebuild the state is rather constrained, especially in the face of huge blows to tourism and plantation, the two main drivers of Kerala’s economy. The unexpected tragedy makes health workers and doctors believe that a widespread epidemic of water and air-borne diseases is imminent. The thousands who have been marooned in the floods and lost everything they built and held dear need immense psychological succour besides financial assistance to return to normalcy.

Darryn Kagan, American Broadcast journalist said, “Bad things do happen in the world, like war, natural disasters, disease. But out of those situations always arise stories of ordinary people doing extraordinary things.” The Kerala floods relief mission bears testimony to many of these stories. The Army, Navy and Air-Force personnel have galvanized into action for the flood rescue operations, navigating through difficult topography to save lives, while risking their own. Young and old alike volunteer tirelessly in rescue and relief operations. Those who are safe from the wrath of the rains have offered abode to the less fortunate. Benevolent donors continue to contribute heartily, both in cash and kind. People have been ‘kinder than is necessary’ and that is the beacon of hope to believe that Kerala will emerge from the ashes like a phoenix, on the shoulder of these (extra)ordinary people. For this too, shall pass.

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It is an earnest plea to the readers from everyone at the Stephanian Forum to help the state of Kerala in whatever way they can. We are linking below some of the many avenues of providing relief to the natural calamity struck state:

  1. Kerela Chief Minister’s Distress Relief Fund: https://donation.cmdrf.kerala.gov.in/

  2. Goonj Foundation Dropping Centreshttps://goonj.org/droping-centres/

  3. Donations can be also made via UPI mobile apps. These include BHIM, Paytm, Tez, Phonepe ( This is certainly quite accessible, so we urge everyone to contribute)

  4. You can donate a meal through Zomato App

  5. Global Giving Project: https://www.globalgiving.org/projects/relief-to-flood-hit-families-in-kerala/