Absence of preventive strategies to reduce damage

The landslips that claimed several lives and left behind a trail of destruction in three districts on Friday have exposed the State’s zero preparedness and absence of preventive strategies to reduce damage inflicted by such disasters.

A proposal for disaster risk reduction submitted to the Union government by the Department of Revenue and Disaster Management late last year during the height of the Mullaperiyar dam controversy stands testimony to the State’s vulnerability when it comes to dealing with natural calamities, including landslips.

The proposal seeking assistance of more than Rs.1,000 crore admits to the need for a two-pronged strategy – preparedness and prevention – in facing the challenge posed by landslips.

It calls for the preparation of landslip susceptibility maps at the district, taluk, and panchayat levels. While the proposal claims that such a map for the State and district is available with the Centre for Earth Science Studies, it is missing at the taluk and panchayat levels.

The ways suggested by the State government to boost its preparedness, including the completion of landslip hazard vulnerability and risk analysis of the districts and taluks, identifying high risk areas and creating awareness among locals living or cultivating in the areas; and creation of task forces at taluk levels are yet to take off.

The proposals made by the State government for the prevention of landslips are also no way near implementation. For a State that had to bear the brunt of many devastating landslips over the years, many of these proposals should have been in place long back.

Capacity building and strengthening of research on landslips with the support of CESS, universities, engineering colleges, and Public Works Department; developing low cost instrumentation for early warning; installation of early warning system at vulnerable locations; and procurement of sophisticated equipments for landslip studies are the other preventive proposals suggested.

Significantly, the proposal identifies the need for periodic maintenance of natural drains and topographic hollows, especially before and during monsoon season, in the wake of the landslip that hit Kothamangalam with a topography conducive for landslips.

The failure to open the shutters of Pazhassi Dam during an overflow caused by cloudburst-induced landslips in Kozhikode recently creating a real scare for the people living downstream also point at the importance of periodic maintenance of drains and reservoirs.

The proposals to encourage Agrostologic methods to arrest shallow slide movements, vetiver fencing in high sloping soil slopes, and trying coir geotextiling that help slope stabilisation and control soil erosion at appropriate locations also remain in paper. The need for identifying safe areas for rehabilitation of affected people with the help of experts has also been emphasized considering the State’s vulnerability to multi-hazards.

The Kothamangalam accident once again brought to focus the need for having a pool of experts at the disposal of the district disaster management authority to fight water-related disasters as valuable time is lost waiting for the team from Navy or Coast Guard. A proposal to set up a pool of expert divers in the district is yet to take off eight months after it was first mooted.

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