Last Saturday, the Ernakulam District Disaster Management Authority received a communication recommending the opening of all 12 shutters along the Chalakkudy River to avert potential flooding in the wake of intensified rainfall.
It was based on the data from rain gauges along the river basin that put the rainfall at 150mm to 200 mm in the preceding 20 hours.
The communication was the first authoritative one given to a government agency by the nascent Community Resource Centre (CRC) at Puthenvelikkara. CRC started functioning last year to avert a repeat of the deluge in 2018 when Puthenvelikkara, a confluent point of Periyar and Chalakkudy rivers, was one of the worst hit.
“We have installed 22 rain gauges along the Chalakkudy river basin since May 2020 and have an exhaustive data of daily rainfall since then. The community members share the reading from each gauge on our WhatsApp group daily at 8.30 a.m. that is then updated on Google Sheet (a free web-based spreadsheet program),” said P.N. Maya, coordinator, CRC.
Significantly, children are encouraged to read the rain gauges to create an awareness about the environment among them. In fact, a three-month-long environment awareness course is also being planned.
The CRC initiative is being done in collaboration with Equinoct—a community-sourced modelling solution provider initiated by IIT Bombay and NIT-Calicut alumnus—under the Parivarthan Project, backed by the CSR funding of HDFC Bank, and implemented by the MS Swaminathan Research Foundation (MSSRF).
“We don’t have a flood inundation map or any data on how rainfall and groundwater contribute to flooding with rain gauges limited to far and in between. The initiative taps into local level knowledge with community participation to plug this gap. We are also gauging the water level in two wells as groundwater contributes significantly to floods in the Western Ghats,” said C.G. Madhusoodhanan, CEO, Equinoct.
All this data would be integrated into a web-based river basin level flood monitoring and forecasting system, a major handicap in the present disaster management setup, he said.
Now, plans are underway to install rain gauges along Periyar river basin as well. “There are hardly any gauges downstream of Periyar and with rainfall varying drastically even between short stretches that could be a major data gap in mitigation plans. Besides, more sophisticated gauges will also be deployed once the spots for installing gauges are identified and the reading mechanism become streamlined,” said M.P. Shajan, cluster coordinator, MSSRF.