Resilient Rebuilding – Lessons from the Kerala Floods

Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan.

Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan.   | Photo Credit: S. Mahinsha

The State of Kerala, which is known for its rich and diverse natural heritage did not have to face natural calamities of significant magnitude since 1924. But the recent unprecedented floods of August 2018, posed a new and a major challenge to our Government and the civil society.

Kerala was very badly affected by this flood in which there was loss of 453 precious human lives. In addition, 280 thousand houses were lost or damaged, 140 thousand hectares of standing crops were destroyed and about 70 thousand kilometres of road network suffered major damage. The total recovery needs of the State has been estimated at ₹31,000 crores as per the Post Disaster Needs Assessment (PDNA) conducted by the UN Agencies.

But our society met this with exemplary determination. The spirit of courage, especially among the youth and students has its roots in the uniqueness of Kerala society due to the imbibing of the values of famous renaissance movement, which took place in our society in the last two centuries. The secular fabric of our society ensured that no differences could stand in the way of meeting this natural calamity challenge.

The fisher-folk who brave the sea for a livelihood deserve our special gratitude for their timely intervention without which we would have lost many more lives. Rescue of people trapped in houses and moving them to safer places was the top priority and this was done effectively with societal participation as mentioned earlier.

Affected families were given immediate relief in cash and kind. Critical infrastructure like power supply was restored in record time. The State Government in cooperation with Local Government institutions, civil society and mass organisations organised a massive drive for cleaning flood affected houses, provision of drinking water, medicines and essential supplies.

A comprehensive programme to rebuild lost and damaged houses has been launched. Loans for recovery of essential house-hold articles lost and damaged during the floods from our Co-operative Banks and commercial banks where channelised through the widely networked Women’s self help group Kudumbashree. The interest payment on these loans was borne by the Government of Kerala. Our Government also ensured wage employment to needy families by augmenting the ongoing employment programme. Our Government is also providing financial assistance with beneficiary involvement for rebuilding damaged houses and constructing completely lost houses. Kerala which accords a pride of place to education gave priority to the post flood problems faced by our students who where given new text books and note books. Camps were also held to speedily reissue lost certificates.

We have presently taken up the challenging task of rebuilding Kerala better. In other words, our aim is not to restore what was in existence before the flood, but to build a new Kerala which will be resilient to any possible natural disasters in future.

The Rebuild Kerala Initiative is being carried out in a mission mode adopting the latest available technologies. Eco-friendly building strategies, giving more room for rivers, learning to live with floods etc. are the key ingredients of this initiative. Kerala which has a long history of implementing social security measures and several progressive interventions like land reforms, state action in education and health, expects to fulfil the present task also through peoples’ participation. For this, the strong institutional framework of decentralisation of governance will be of great support.

In the first week of May 2019 the cyclone Fani badly affected the Indian State Odisha. But damage to human life could be controlled due to sufficient early warning. This brings before us the fact that early warning systems should work effectively as the variations in

climatic patterns due to global warming have increased the frequency of natural calamities like floods and cyclones.

I wholeheartedly support the theme of the World Reconstruction Conference being held now at Geneva, which is “Opportunities to build back more inclusively include identifying vulnerable groups and their needs prior to a disaster, social protection programs that target the most vulnerable and ensuring that reconstruction does not overlook low-income and geographically-isolated areas.”. The floods of 2018 brought the best of Kerala out – sinking all differences we acted unison. This spirit will continue to inspire us through all our recovery efforts.

The motivation to rebuild Kerala by guarding its eco-system and ensuring that no one is left behind is the force behind our rebuild initiative. We have formulated policies with regard to holistic management of water resources by resolving to constitute a River Basin Authority which will be a gain changer in water resource management policy. The technical personnel will no longer be construction engineers, but custodians of a health river. Our Integrated Water Resource Management (IWRM) policy will be in place shortly. In this we plan to protect lives and property along with a determined decision to provide more room for the river.

In implementing the rebuild initiative which will make our State resilient to any natural disaster in future, people’s participation is our main strength.

We have three strong pillars which support us – a vibrant civil society which sinks differences and springs into action in times of crisis, strong mass organisations of various sections of the society which can mobilise a large number of people for action and a caring Government which acts swiftly and in accordance with the needs of the people. These have helped us to successfully come out of these three crises.

- Pinarayi Vijayan, Chief Minister of Kerala, spoke at the World Reconstruction Conference held at Geneva on May 13, 2019.

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Printable version | Feb 18, 2020 12:04:26 PM |

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