Monsoon Rains, Deadly Landslides Devastate India's Southwestern Kerala

Heavy rains battering India's southwestern state of Kerala and subsequent landslides have claimed at least 15 lives as the area experiences on of the worst monsoon seasons in decades.

The latest round of rain, which began falling August 4, 2013, caused unprecedented flooding over the course of three days, causing a loss worth Rs. 19.53 crore (3.22 million US dollars). The monsoon damaged the runway at Kochi International Airport, forcing it to be closed for days and 126 flights to be cancelled affecting thousands of passengers.

Kerala is experiencing one of the worst monsoon seasons in decades, with flash floods inundating areas and landslides a very real threat. Floods and landslides in northern India killed more than 1,000 people earlier in the summer.

But monsoon season, which continues to wreak havoc Kerala this year, is usually an important and beneficial time for the state. Kerala was once voted by National Geographic Magazine as a must-visit destination out of its 50 top destinations, mainly for its picturesque backwaters and monsoons. Kerala’s monsoon season is a much sought out after time for tourists as it has a special charm with the rains changing the landscapes.

And for Keralites, rains have always been welcome, with literature, pictures and songs of rain abundant in the culture. Kerala’s electricity and agriculture are heavily dependent on the monsoon rains. There are even Facebook groups by Keralites dedicated to rain.

In South Kerla an unidentified man sitting on a car submerged in flood water

In South Kerla an unidentified man sitting on a car submerged in flood water. Image by Aji Jayachandran. Copyright Demotix (6/8/2013)

But this year is different. Beginning in June, the two months of incessant rains haven't stopped. Dams are filling fast and are almost to the brim and the shutters might have to be opened gushing in flood water, which triggers panic among the people who have been living a serene life near the rivers and lakes. One of the largest dams, Idukki Dam, has only 18 feet more until the shutters will be opened.

The state has received 40 percent excess rains in the past two months alone which has thrown the state into disarray. The Hindu newspaper reports that around 2,100 people have been shifted to 36 relief camps from the flood hit areas of Thiruvalla taluk. Agriculture has been hard hit by the rains where rubber tapping couldn't be done and three to four week old paddy crops being washed away by the floods.

Social media users have kept up-to-date with the news of monsoon flooding by posting pictures from homes, talking about safety measures, and talking about environment damage.

Renuka, who lives in Alwaye where the flooding is severe, has posted many pictures to her Google Plus account of how much the river Periyar has risen due to the rains. She lives on the banks of the river and is scared of what a few more weeks of rain could do.

Women and children watching the rising waterline. Image courtesy: Renuka Arun, used with permission.

Women and children watching the rising waterline. Image from Google+ by Renuka Arun, used with permission.

Sapta Varnangal commented about the situation in Muvattupuzha:

Heard that my mother's house in muvattupuzha near to the river banks is under water. This doesn't happen during the normal monsoons.

People who live in the opposite shore observing the rising river. Image courtesy: Renuka Arun, used with permission.

People who live in the opposite shore observing the rising river. Image from Google+ by Renuka Arun, used with permission.

Idukki has been facing the worst of the rains with landslides killing many residents. Harish Vasudevan wrote on his Facebook that the current landslides could have been avoided, if environment friendly construction work was done instead of giving permits to all type buildings:

ഇടുക്കിയിലെ രാഷ്ട്രീയ നേതൃത്വമോ സാധാരണ മനുഷ്യരോ സർക്കാരോ ഇതുകൊണ്ടും പഠിക്കാൻ പോകുന്നില്ല. ഇടനാട്ടിൽ നടപ്പാക്കുന്ന ‘വികസനം’ അപ്പടി മലനാട്ടിലും നടപ്പാക്കുന്നതിന്റെ ഫലം തോരാമഴയിൽ മണ്ണിടിച്ചിലായും വരും. മലനാട്ടിൽ മണ്ണ് ഇളക്കുന്നതിനും ഖനനത്തിനും എതിരെ നടപടി വേണമെന്ന് ഗാഡ്ഗിൽ കമ്മിറ്റി റിപ്പോർട്ട് പറഞ്ഞപ്പോൾ ആ റിപ്പോർട്ട് കത്തിച്ച ബിഷപ്പിനും പള്ളിക്കാര്ക്കും, റിപ്പോർട്ട്നെ എതിർത്ത സർക്കാരിനും പ്രതിപക്ഷത്തിനും ഇപ്പോൾ നാട്ടുകാരോട് മറുപടി പറയാനുള്ള ബാധ്യതയുണ്ട്.

Neither the Idukkis political clout nor the people are going to learn a lesson from the current rain damage. Development projects that suit other types of land are done in Idukki which has a different land structure. The result is landslides and destruction during rain. The Gadgil Committee reported that land mining need to be stopped. People living in Idukki including the priests from the churches in Idukki and the government rejected that report. But now they have to answer to the public.

Nelson Joseph, a resident in Idukki, countered the argument by saying the sole reason is not due to construction:

Nelson Joseph താങ്കൾ പറഞ്ഞു വരുന്നത് ഇടുക്കിയിൽ ഉരുൾ പൊട്ടുന്നത്, അവിടെ നടത്തുന്ന വികസന പ്രവർത്തനങ്ങൾ കൊണ്ട് ആണെന്നാണോ? ഞാൻ ഒരു ഇടുക്കികാരൻ ആണ്. അറിയാൻ മേലഞ്ഞിട്ടു ചോദിക്കുവ എന്ത് മണ്ണാങ്കട്ട വികസനം ആണ് അവിടെ നടത്തിയിട്ടുള്ളത്? ഇപ്പോൾ ഉരുൾ പൊട്ടിയ സ്ഥലങ്ങളിൽ ഒരു തരത്തിലുള്ള, വികസനങ്ങളും ഇല്ല. മൂന്നാറിലേക്കു ഉള്ള ഒരു വഴി മാത്രം ആണ് അവിടെ മനുഷ്യ നിർമ്മിതം ആയുള്ള വല്ല്യ സംഭവം. ഈ വഴികൾ വരുന്നതിനു മുൻപ്, എന്തിന് മനുഷ്യർ അങ്ങോട്ട് കടന്നു ചെല്ലുന്നതിനു മുൻപേ അവിടെ ഉരുൾ പൊട്ടൽ ഉണ്ടായിട്ടുണ്ട്. അത് എന്ത് വികസനത്തിന്റെ പേരില് ആണ്? പരസ്ഥിതി വാദം ഒക്കെ നല്ലത് തന്നെ. പക്ഷെ ഇങ്ങനെ ഒരു ദുരിതം വരുമ്പോൾ വസ്തുതകൾ മനസ്സിലാക്കാതെ, വെറുതെ എല്ലാം വികസനത്തിന്റെ പ്രശ്നം എന്ന് പറയുന്നത് ശരിയായ പ്രശ്നങ്ങൾ ചര്ച്ച ചെയ്യുന്നതിനെ വഴി തിരിച്ചുവിടുന്നതിന് വേണ്ടി ആണോ എന്ന് പോലും സംശയിക്കുന്നു. ഗാഡ്ഗിൽ റിപ്പോർട്ട് പ്രാക്ടിക്കൽ അല്ല.

Who said it is due to development that Idukki is facing such a situation? I am from Idukki and I would like to know what development has been done in this area? There has been no infrastructure developments. There is only a single road to Munnar where the landslide has happened. Even before people started to live there, there has been landslides. Advocating for the environment and all is OK, but not when such destruction has occurred and not without proper facts or investigation. The Gadgil Report is not practical.

Prasanth Gulfu from Alwaye posts a message on his Facebook page of emergency numbers if the situation arises:

In case of any emergency please do alert, as we stay close to the river. Let us all b wary of the situation and remain cautious. Call 9946732042

There are YouTube videos showing the situation of floods, such as this video uploaded by Real High Definition:

Twitter has hosted interesting discussion about the monsoon as well.

Engineer Hafiz Rasheed (@hfz_r) blamed the deforestation and climate change:

Writer, journalist and teacher Anna MM Vetticad (@annavetticad) remembered her Kerala vacation when during such floods, people used to come visit by boats:

Kuttanad, India. 26th June 2013 -- A boat as pictured here is floating on the road submerged in flood water.

A boat is floating on the road submerged in flood water at Kuttanad, Kerala. Image by Aji Jayachandran. Copyright Demotix (26/6/2013)

HR Process Outsourcing Expert Mohan Kannan (@mohankan) reported on Muvattupuzha:

Journalist Nidheesh MK (@ReporterNid) reported that Aluva is submerged in floods:

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