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Wednesday, May 31, 2023

Kerala Disaster – Natural Or Man Made?

As the Kerala tragedy unfolds with the entire state waterlogged, memories of the Uttarakhand disaster loom large & the question beckons that were these tragedies avoidable? Has human greed & tinkering with nature & ecology contributed to the loss of human lives & property.

If experts are to be believed then these tragedies could have been avoided. It is said that rivers reclaim their natural boundaries even after 100 years. Professor Gadgil, who is the founder of the Centre for Ecological Sciences in Bengaluru, blames the Kerala inundation on ecological degradation aided by mindless construction.

Prof. Gadgil points to illegal mining queries in Kannur & Pathanamthitta on the eastern Kerala belt bordering Tamil Nadu – thriving because of political patronage – which are the worst hit with landslides, trees being uprooted, buildings being buried & mounds of earth being dumped in the rivers. Prof. Gadgil also finds similarity between the Kerala & Uttarakhand disaster of 2013 when a cloudburst in the Himalayas led rivers to breach their banks with debris from both sides blocking their course. Gadgil says the stone quarries on the Western ghats weakened the topography, apart from creating havoc on the environment.

His view is seconded by Muralee Thummarukudy who is the Chief of Disaster Risk Reduction in the UN Environment Programme and who predicted a calamity in 2013. He reiterates the belief that even after decades, rivers reclaim their natural boundaries which have been transgressed by humans by building resorts, hotels & apartments. He reminds us of the ‘Great Flood’ in July 1924 in Kerala when most parts of Kerala – then 2 separate kingdoms – were inundated. Thummarukady says that after the dams were built in Idduki, people are vying to build palatial houses on the banks of Periyar though it is a fact that floods can & will come again.

In Uttarakhand, people built houses & hotels on the banks of Alaknanda & Bhagirathi en route to the holy shrine of Kedarnath and they were consumed when the rivers were in full fury.

According to Thummarukady, a flood is not a natural disaster but a natural phenomenon which results in the replenishment of ground water & micro nutrients & the only way to prevent damage to life & property is to respect the natural boundaries of rivers & let the catchments thrive so that they take the brunt in times of disaster & lessen the impact on human settlements which should in any case be a safe distance away from the embankments. But for that to happen, humans, particularly the mafias & the colonisers, will have to sacrifice their greed & lust for money.

Though dams are mostly built to regulate the flow of water apart from generating power, they can be double edged swords as Muralee rightly infers. The swelling of waters in the reservoirs due to rains led to the opening of the dam gates & the resulting flooding submerged everything.

In fact, Prof. Gadgil does not favour building dams in a tropical place like Kerala as the stored water tends to evaporate quickly in the tropical climes & flood gates have to be opened during rains, thus aggravating disaster & losing the very essence of building dams while alternate sources like solar energy are a better bet.

However, the Kerala government seems to be having other ideas as it plans to go ahead with its 163 MW Athirapally project over the Chalakudy river which was in full fury in the current deluge.

Will the powers that be learn lessons from the mammoth disaster that has ravaged God’s own country, or will the politician-mafia nexus continue to play havoc with precious human lives?

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Aman Gupta
Aman Gupta
Political Editor, Samast Bharat magazine


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