Climate crisis in Kerala: An integrated approach is needed to mitigate impact

News: Kerala has seen various instances of heavy rains, floods, landslides and droughts over the last few years.  

What are the natural disasters that Kerala is prone to? 

Landslides: These are triggered by the slope of an area, rainfall intensity, soil saturation capacity, soil depth and geological structure of a location.

Flash Floods: Low-lying areas in the western part of Kerala are prone to flash floods. If the construction is done in areas with drainages, the natural flow of water can be obstructed. It is then highly likely that water will flow into areas where it can flow. It can sometimes be through cities or even places where houses are located. Example: Flood in Kochi airport in 2018. 

Must Read: Has Kerala learnt anything from extreme weather? Apparently not, say experts

Drought: Although Kerala receives an annual average rainfall of 3,000 mm, but there is possibility of drought also. Kerala experienced drought in 2017. The southern parts of the state (Kollam), central Kerala (Palakkad) and North Kerala (Kannur and Kasaragod districts) generally experience summer droughts (February to May).

What factors make Kerala more vulnerable to the climate change induced disasters? 

It is a densely populated (859 per sq km) and geographically small state (38,863 sq km) 

The maximum distance between the eastern and western parts of Kerala is only 120 km (in some places it is only 35 km). Within this 120 km, there are places above 2,695 metres (Anamudi, Idukki district) and places up to 2 metres below sea level. Therefore, in case of heavy rainfall, water needs to flow smoothly from the eastern hills of Kerala to the west coast. When this is interrupted, the effects worsen. 

Further, Kerala has around 41 rivers and around 58 dams. 

Must Read: Did poor Govt handling in Kerala cause 2018 floods? Yes, says CAG
What are the reasons for these recurrent natural disasters in Kerala? 

Climate change in Kerala is likely due to the combined effect of geography, land-use change, urbanisation, development activities and population density of the state. 

Large number of dams impede the natural flow of rivers. Those living along the river banks are most affected when the dams are opened during the rainy season. 

Migration of people to the foothills of the Western Ghats for agriculture and housing. The origin of many rivers in Kerala starts from these portions of the Western Ghats. Buildings, roads, agriculture and construction activities obstruct the natural flow of rainwater.

Quarrying, mining and large-scale construction activities can impact the ecological stability of the landscape and can even cause landslides. There are over 5000 quarries in Kerala. 

Must Read: Floods in Europe and lessons for India – Explained, Pointwise
What is the way forward? 

Flood risk zones should be prepared at the micro level to identify, locate and manage the regions most vulnerable to floods. 

Rainwater harvesting and protection of watersheds can help alleviate drought to some extent, as this will replenish the groundwater level also. 

There’s also a need to create awareness in Kerala 

An integrated approach is needed to manage climate change impacts

Source: This post is based on the article “Climate crisis in Kerala-An integrated approach is needed to mitigate impact” published in Down to earth on 4th Jan 2022. 

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