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August 2018 showed us how we met disaster and how we successfully faced and rebuilt our lives, says Mohammed Y Safirulla

2018 was an eventful year for Ernakulam district. A significant event which shaped the year was the August floods. This year the monsoon started earlier than usual and we experienced the first wave of intense rains in July. Just when one thought it was all over, the district witnessed another round of intense rains in August. This resulted in the worst floods the State had witnessed in a century.

Rescue

The district administration started preparing for the August spell well in advance by organising meetings with elected representatives and identifying relief camps. Many mock trials were held on how to face a flood if it occurred. However, the rain was much more than we had expected. During the flood, we located the Flood Control Centre in Pathidipalam Rest House at Kalamaserry because of its strategic location (to send rescue teams and relief materials). We had teams from the Army, the Navy, the coast guard, the police, the fire & rescue and the NDRF. Fishermen from the district contributed tremendously towards the rescue work. Locals, particularly the youth, joined in large numbers in the rescue operations. The control room was assisted by young people who helped the administration in locating those who required help—both medical and rescue. From the data we received from various sources, including social media, we were able to process and identify areas for intervention where rescue teams were sent.

Relief

At its peak, Ernakulam district had 970 relief camps with about 4.2 lakh people. Making provisions for the people in camps and taking care of them was a daunting task. This was possible only because of support from local people who joined in. Once people started returning home from the camps, we had to focus on cleaning and health issues. Local self governments functioned non stop during the relief operations and in cleaning drives. It is to the credit of all those involved that we did not have any outbreak of infections post flood.

Rebuild

Rehabilitation is a long process involving building damaged houses, public assets and more importantly, livelihood. The State is working on the ‘Build Back Better’ model. We want to build resilient houses and assets, which would enable us to face any disaster. In Ernakulam, we have to build about 2,000 totally damaged houses. Work in rebuilding about 1,300 of them has started as of now. For people who cannot build these houses by themselves, cooperatives and other private groups are coming forward to help them.

We need to bring in technological and financial interventions in the livelihood sector. Disaster presents an opportunity to start afresh. Such an opportunity is possible in areas like agriculture and handloom. All handlooms in Chendamangalam village, which were affected in the floods, have been restored. But we need to bring in technological intervention, which would help in taking these handloom products to people around the country. Only then would the sector look attractive to future generations. Similarly, we need scientific intervention in agriculture by moving to better yielding cropvarieties. (For example, in Pokkali farming.) Small and medium traders, who were tremendously impacted, have to be brought under insurance coverage.

It was a challenge Kerala faced as one unit. We were tremendously supported by various organisations, other States and non- resident Keralites. Everyone joined leaving their differences behind. It is this spirit that we need as we proceed rebuilding our district. If we continue to work with this spirit in 2019 then we will be able to showcase to the world how we met the disaster and how we successfully faced and rebuilt our lives.

I would like to conclude with a quote from my favourite poem Ulysses by Alfred Lord Tennyson.

Though much is taken, much abides; and though

We are not now that strength which in old days

Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are,

One equal temper of heroic hearts,

Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will

To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.”

(Mohammed Y Safirulla is the district collector of Ernakulam)

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Printable version | Jan 29, 2020 8:31:15 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/life-and-style/what-the-2018-flood-taught-us/article25850465.ece

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