What Kerala is doing to avoid a repeat of ‘Great Flood of 2018’

The administration is today in a better position to deal with rain-related incidents, the officials said

Kerala floods - The Federal
Army and NDRF personnel carry out a rescue operation in a flood affected area of Ernakulam district : Photo: PTI

Kerala has learned lessons from the Great Flood of 2018 and the administration is today in a better position to deal with rain-related incidents, officials have told The Federal.

Authorities have deployed 11 companies of the National Disaster Response Force across the state, in addition to two companies each of regular army and its Defence Security Corps. More than 300 relief camps have been opened in the past few days and 3,851 families have been moved there. Helicopters of the navy are on standby to assist in rescue operations. 

Kerala received unusually heavy rainfall in August 2018 and the administration had to open 35 out of the 54 dams in the state for the first time in history, including all five overflow gates of the Idukki Dam. Critics blamed the floods that followed on that decision, although later independent scientific studies conducted by hydrology experts from IIT Madras, IIT Gandhinagar and Purdue University concluded that it was the heavy downpour that resulted it the deluge, and not the dam management.

Still, the administration is not taking any chances this time around. It has staggered the openings of a dozen dams to ensure release of water in orderly fashion. 

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The water from Idukki Reservoir and Idamalayar Dam in Ernakulam District was expected to reach Aluwa in Kochi by midnight Tuesday, and authorities were expecting the height of Periyar River to rise by one metre. 

According to the district collector of Ernakulam,  the water in the river is well below warning levels. On Tuesday there was little precipitation along river routes and catchment areas. 

Also read: Nature’s fury or human error: Why is Kerala so prone to calamities?

Timings of high and low tides in the Arabian Sea were also taken into consideration before the dam water was released. The major rivers in central Kerala are already carrying the excess water to the sea, with no threat of flooding. Manimala, Pampa and AchanKovil rivers had wreaked havoc in Pathanamthitta and Alappuzha in 2018. There is little risk of that happening again this year, officials said. 

However, Kuttanadu, Kerala’s rice bowl, has not escaped calamity. Kuttanadu lies across the two districts of Alappuzha and Kottayam, with 8,847 acres of paddy there. Heavy rain over the past few days along with water from the dams has caused breaching of bunds in the fields, leading to heavy losses. October means harvest time – Kuttanadu has two seasons of paddy farming. 

“As of now, we estimate that around 400 acres of paddy is lost. All the shutters of Thottappilly spillway are open and maximum quantity of water is being released. Farmers are also struggling to close the broken bunds,” Sreerekha TA, the district agricultural officer, told The Federal.

Also read: Idukki dam: How Kerala’s prized asset sometimes turns fiend

Thirty-three villages in Kottayam, the worst-hit district, have been identified as landslide prone and people there have been moved. Fishermen, who saved thousands of lives in 2018, have also been deployed across six districts in Central Kerala.

Forecast

Although the Met Department had predicted heavy rains and declared ‘orange’ alert in 11 districts, skies were largely clear on Wednesday. Currently only three districts have ‘orange’ advisory.

Between October 1 and 19, the state received 444.9mm of rains, against the expected 183.5mm.  Twelve districts have already received more than 100 per cent of the expected rains this season. The northeast monsoon is expected to begin only on October 26. 

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