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Kavalappara landslide: Malappuram needs to learn from the disaster

The loss of property and damage to sources of livelihood remain incalculable as the destruction has been widespread

The eco-rich Malappuram district, its proud residents believe, is rich with geographical diversities — except for deserts.

But monsoon after monsoon, the densely populated district has been proving that it is ‘rich’ in natural disasters too. In recent times, there has not been a monsoon without a landslip. The casualty count tends to rise by the year. In last year’s floods 46 lives perished, though Malappuram was considered less affected than other districts.

Rising disaster toll

And the result: this land of exceptional camaraderie and humanism continues to contribute generously to the State’s disaster toll.

Take this month’s rain devastation, for instance. The Western Ghats grama panchayat of Pothukallu near Nilambur was the tragic centre of landslips, destruction and loss of human lives in the State. More than a week after a landslip struck Kavalappara in the panchayat, over 50 members of 18 households were buried alive when a large portion of a hillock slid down levelling off dozens of hectares of rich farmland and knocking down homes and public utilities.

The total number of human lives lost in this year’s monsoon fury in the district is nearly 70 and counting. Most victims of landslips and mudslides in the district were socio-economically backward. They lived in the vulnerable fringe areas as they had few alternatives.

The loss of property and damage to sources of livelihood remain incalculable as the destruction has been widespread. Paathar, a lively bazaar in Pothukallu, was wiped out leaving a gigantic scar in its stead. Across the district, hundreds of houses got mauled. Business was hit like never before as unexpected inundation destroyed merchandise worth crores of rupees in towns like Nilambur, Kondotty, and Malappuram. Besides the district’s fragile rural economy, already deeply hurt by demonetisation and reverse migration from the Gulf, is in ruins.

Vandalising the hills

Apparently, nature has responded furiously to human vandalism. The district is now paying the price for mindless development carried out in recent decades by destroying hills, forests, waterbodies, and wetlands. For instance, large portions of Oorakamala and Cheruppadimala, two of the highest hills in the district, were ruthlessly carved up for granite and laterite. Hills have been grotesquely wounded by quarrying; forests have been shaved off by commercial agriculture; paddy fields and ponds which in the past served as buffer for floodwaters have turned into modern mansions; rivers have shrunken and streams vanished.

The number of deaths by drowning in floodwaters was, however, few. Mudslides turned out to be the real villain. And, it was not rain alone that triggered such

a mammoth mudslide as the one that took away 18 families of Kavalappara.

Not a stand-alone

Experts say deforestation and reckless commercial interventions on land have destabilised the environment. When rain of extreme intensity pours own, the precarious hills inevitably succumb, causing casualties and destruction. The impact of large-scale rubber plantations on the sloping Kavalappara hills apparently colluded with the extraordinary rain in taking so many human lives. Elsewhere in the district too, the situation was no different.

Kavalappara, experts suggest, is not a standalone disaster. Nor a once-in-a-lifetime event. Going by the past natural disasters, especially the regular annual landslips, coupled with the outrageous speed of environmental destruction, it is a road-sign to the future. Be prepared for more Kavalapparas.

(MALABAR MAIL is a weekly column by The Hindu’s correspondents that will reflect Malabar’s life and lifestyle)

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Printable version | Mar 28, 2020 3:32:29 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/kerala/kavalapparas-are-here-to-stay/article29163745.ece

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