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

Synopsis: The issue of flash floods seen in Kerala, reasons associated and the remedies needed.

Introduction

The recent Kerala floods took life of more than 25 people, triggered by heavy rains in the south-west tip of the Indian peninsula. However, this is not something new for Kerala. Some 483 people were killed in the August 2018 floods.

What are the reasons attributed to the recent floods?

The India Meteorological Department (IMD) has said the rains are the outcome of low-pressure weather systems which evolved over peninsular India.

But other climate experts have cited cloudbursts as the cause i.e, a pattern of torrential rains that occur over a limited area in a short period. Experts have also said a changing climate is behind the extreme weather events of the last four years.

What are the recent trends wrt Kerala floods?

Loss of life,property and livelihood seen again. Like last time, the most severely affected are those of limited means.

In the last four years, Kerala has witnessed only scanty rainfall in June and July but has faced extreme, unexpected rain for short durations in August, September and October.

Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology (IITM) has established a 52% increase in the frequency of cyclones over the Arabian Sea between 2001 and 2019 owing to increased sea surface temperature of Arabian sea.

What are the reasons for Kerala floods?

Natural and Geographical reason-Given the coastal state’s terrain, with the windward slopes of its Western Ghats forcing monsoon clouds upwards to squeeze out rainwater.

Anthropological reasons:

– Globally, climate change is the prime suspect in almost all such occurrences. Experts
have long warned of a tipping point after which rain cycles that have prevailed for millennia can suddenly go erratic.
In general, extra warmth directly affects relative air-pressure and interferes with air-circulation patterns. A warmer atmosphere also holds more water, which in turn results in heavier rainfall.

– Local causes- Environmental degradation cannot escape blame. Loss of forest cover down the decades turned hillsides unstable.

The use of concrete for construction has disrupted the state’s natural rainwater absorption and drainage system.

Quarrying, mining and other such activities compounded the menace. Many check dams got silted up, leaving their reservoirs unable to restrain downhill gushes of water.

What needs to be done now?

Short term measures-Immediate relief, rehabilitation and rescue activities provisions should be the top most priority.

Long-term measures-Region-specific solutions that involve actions within the ambit of local administrative control. Kerala’s recurrent floods need a comprehensive plan of their own.
The need for climate-resilient construction and agricultural practices, as well as long-term strategies to protect people from floods and landslides in the Western Ghats.

Fair and transparent environmental impact assessments when it takes up larger development projects requiring massive infrastructure and changes in land-use patterns.

State should initiate large-scale climate change literacy.

Limitations in forecasting rain, especially extreme rainfall events. These needed to be improved.

Adequately implementing “Madhav Gadgil” committee recommendations. This panel on the eco-logical fragility of our Western  Ghats recommended measures to halt and reverse the damage.

Source: This post is based on the following articles

Has Kerala learnt anything from extreme weather? Apparently not, say experts” published in “Down To Earth” on 18th October 2021.

“Kerala floods require a local set of responses”published in “Livemint” on 19th October 2021.

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