Inland migration to escape a violent sea

Many live in uncertainty amid fear of the advancing sea along Alappuzha coast

Published - May 21, 2022 11:22 pm IST - ALAPPUZHA

Remains of a house that collapsed in a sea surge at Neerkunnam in Alappuzha.

Remains of a house that collapsed in a sea surge at Neerkunnam in Alappuzha. | Photo Credit: SURESH ALLEPPEY

A narrow strip of land separates K. Joy and Subhadra’s house from a roaring sea at Neerkunnam in Alappuzha. Ever since giant waves pulverised their neighbour’s home last year, the elderly couple have lived in uncertainty amid the persistent fear of the advancing sea. 

The toilet in the backyard of their house and half-a-dozen coconut trees have already been taken by the rising sea. “We do not know what will happen during this monsoon season. Only time will tell whether our house will survive the high tidal surges. Three of our neighbours have already left the place and moved to safer places,” says Subhadra. 

Subhadra, who has been living there for more than four decades, says their house was earlier 500 metres from the sea. But with the sea coming closer, now it is less than 20 metres away. The damage caused by coastal erosion is evident in the region. Several houses here were swallowed by the sea in recent years. A number of rundown and abandoned structures standing like memorials of lives once lived there look set to join the vast expanse of seawater anytime soon. 

Years of suffering caused by constant sea surges are forcing people living along the 82-km Alappuzha coastline to ditch their coastal communities and migrate inland to escape the destructive power of the sea. 

The premises of 68-year-old Chandravalli’s house near Ambalapuzha is buried under several feet of sand dumped by high energy waves. She along with her family members is planning to move soon to a new house being constructed inland with partial government assistance.

“The place has become indefensible against sea surges. Everything is being claimed by the ocean. After we informed our willingness to move away from the coastline, the government provided ₹10 lakh under the Punargeham project. We have also taken a bank loan of ₹8 lakh for constructing the house. It has put a huge burden on our shoulders, but there is no other way around,” says Ms. Chandravalli. 

Apart from becoming refugees due to rising sea levels, the coastal people , especially the fishing community, are feeling the heat owing to the increasing loss of man-days due to changing weather patterns. 

Kunjumon G. ,60, makes a living by fishing in the Arabian sea. But an often-agitated sea due to extreme weather events is taking a toll on his livelihood. “The nature of the sea has undergone a marked change in the last two decades. It is becoming more and more unpredictable and rough. It all started after the 2004 tsunami. The mineral sand-mining at Thottappally in the name of harbour development and flood mitigation has further exacerbated coastal erosion and displacement of people,” says Mr. Kunjumon. 

Though the government a couple of years ago decided to build 114 breakwaters at five places off the Alappuzha coast at a cost of ₹184 crore under the Kerala Infrastructure Investment Fund Board (KIIFB), the work is making tardy progress due to an acute shortage of granite.

“People like us have no place to go. We cannot buy land and construct a house with the ₹10 lakh assistance. The government should immediately build/ strengthen seawalls and complete the construction of breakwaters to protect us from sea ingress,” adds Ms. Subhadra. 

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