Analysis | Kerala yet to get its basics right on tackling natural disasters

Notwithstanding its rescue mechanisms, Kerala fails to equip its local bodies on mitigation measures

October 21, 2021 10:47 am | Updated 10:47 am IST - KOCHI

A view of the landslip-hit Kuttickal in Kottayam district.

A view of the landslip-hit Kuttickal in Kottayam district.

Kerala, it appears, has failed to take a leaf out of the two back-to-back floods it had in 2018 and 2019 and the landslides which left a trail of destruction.

As it once again reels under the fury of nature, disaster management experts feel the State has not got its basics right when it comes to vulnerability mapping and mitigation measures.

While it has geared up its disaster response and rescue mechanisms, Kerala failed to empower and equip its local bodies, as promised, to respond to calamities.

The proposal to set up the desired number of rain gauges and weather stations too did not materialise, feel experts.

The major lacunae in terms of disaster preparedness, according to S. Sreekumar, former director of the Integrated Rural Technology Centre and member of the State Environment Impact Assessment Authority, is the delay in updating the landslide hazard zonation mapping, promised after the landslides during 2018 and 2019.

1:500 scale map

“What we have is the map prepared on the 1:50000 scale some two years ago. We need to update it at least in 1: 5000 scale to evolve accurate mitigation plans.

It can use its own resources and expertise to validate the map, which would serve as the base document for any government to evolve plans,” says Dr. Sreekumar.

Muralee Thummarukudy, Chief of Disaster Risk Reduction in the UN Environment Programme, urges Kerala to get used to a world of changing climate.

“We need to take a radical relook at our land-use planning. We can hope to have a sustained reduction in disaster risks only when we start to plan in a risk-informed manner,” he adds.

K. G. Thara, former member, State Disaster Management Authority, and head of the Institute of Land and Disaster Management, too suggests updating the maps at even 1: 2000 scale in high-risk areas so that effective mitigation plans could be drawn up.

Mitigation plans

Most of the disaster mitigation plans prepared by the local bodies are found to be not actionable ones. Kerala has also failed to evolve long-term mitigation plans as its focus is more on reactions to emergency situations.

No local-level and community-specific action plans and capacity-building exercises are taking place, she points out.

Green signal

The disaster management activities initiated before, during and after an event shall set itself into motion action than waiting for the green signal from a centralised authority. It shall be a decentralised system, she says.

On a positive note, an international expert in disaster management, points out that the government has given more responsibility to the local agencies for disaster management and every local body has been asked to prepare disaster management plans.

It has also reinvigorated the civil defence systems by training more people, he says.

However, the Rebuild Kerala initiative has been too slow in implementation.

There is no conscious effort to increase risk awareness in the community.

High flood marks

The suggestion to mark high flood marks in the State, at least in government buildings and schools, has been mostly ignored.

A number of suggestions on land-use changes based on disaster risk was proposed during the post-disaster period.

However, it has not been implemented, he points out.

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