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Monsoon alert – The Hindu- Mrit News

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With yet another southwest monsoon making its annual date with the State, officials are spending long hours working on disaster preparedness programmes to deal with the vagaries of nature 

With yet another southwest monsoon making its annual date with the State, officials are spending long hours working on disaster preparedness programmes to deal with the vagaries of nature 

Come June, the headquarters of the Idukki district administration turns into a hive of activity.  

Hectic days, packed with preparatory and review meetings extending much beyond the working hours await Sheeba George, the District Collector. 

Nothing can be left unattended in Idukki, one of the districts most susceptible to landslips during monsoons, especially the southwest monsoon. 

Ms. George will be chairing several meetings at the District Collectorate at Painavu, which will be attended by department officials and people’s representatives.  The preliminary meetings of officials at lower levels began at least a month ago. 

Located at an altitude of 2,000 ft above mean sea level, landslips are a serious geological hazard in the district, which are common in hilly regions. The seven rivers that flow through the district, the presence of 18 reservoirs, and vast forest tracts have amplified the district’s risk vulnerability. 

Every burst of the southwest monsoon will bring back the melancholy memories of death and disaster to the State. Every long spell of rain or gusty westerlies that blow across the landscape of the State triggers alarm bells in the minds of people. 

The back-to-back flooding Kerala witnessed in 2018 and 2019 had left indelible images of suffering, death, and destruction in the collective consciousness of the State. 

With yet another southwest monsoon making its annual date with the State, officials such as Ms. George are spending long hours working on disaster preparedness programmes to deal with the vagaries of nature. 

“We are all geared up for the monsoon season and have put in place all disaster management and mitigation measures,” says Ms. George. 

From keeping earth movers ready to checking the availability of ambulances and emergency equipment, updating the list of volunteers, and assigning the responsibility of coordination and operations to officials, she is all involved in emergency preparedness activities these days. 

“The emergency operation centres at the local and district levels are functioning round the clock. The list of vulnerable population as well as the areas and those who have to be evacuated in the event of a disaster have been identified. The disaster preparedness and mitigation measures prescribed in the Orange Book on Monsoon Preparedness and Disaster Response Guidelines have been implemented,” says Ms. George. 

It is not just Idukki, the disaster management apparatus, especially in the hilly districts, gets into a tizzy with the onset of the rainy season. 

Meanwhile, in Koottikkal panchayat in Kottayam, around 110 km from Idukki, P. S. Sajimon, the head of the local body, is busy ensuring that a full-fledged disaster response system is in place to face a calamity.

Mr. Sajimon has enough reasons to worry as it was Koottikkal that bore the brunt of nature’s fury last year. Of the 13 lives that perished in the flash floods and landslips that hit the area on October 16, one person still remains unidentified. Around 70 houses were fully damaged and 200 others suffered partial damage as floodwaters wreaked havoc in the area.

This monsoon season, the residents and squads of local volunteers and people’s representatives of the disaster-hit areas of Plappally, Mlakkara, Ilankad Thoppu, and Kodunga and Koottikkal town and Koottikkal Thoppu wards have been put on alert.

The Pullakayar, a tributary of the Manimala river, and the rivulets in the areas were deepened by removing debris and silt that the floodwaters had brought down. The disaster management committee had reviewed the preparations last week, he said.

Two weeks ago, a communication was sent out by the Chief Minister asking the district administrations to compile a list of people in each district vulnerable to disasters even as meteorologists and monsoon experts were wracking their brains over the onset of the southwest monsoon in Kerala. The district administrations had also been asked to share the list with village officers, police, and fire and rescue officers and the district disaster management authorities. 

“The 2018 and 2019 floods and the trail of disaster and destruction it had left have taught us the valuable lesson that we can no longer afford to continue with the current land use patterns. We need to buck up,” feels Sekhar L. Kuriakose, Member-Secretary of the State Disaster Management Authority. 

“Climate variability and climate change are no longer a scientific postulation but a reality that has hit the lives of millions in the State. One cannot run away or wish it away. These experiences have influenced a paradigm shift in the development concepts of Kerala to move towards a risk-informed planning and development process,” says Dr. Kuriakose. 

Clouds hover in the sky during the monsoon season, in Kochi.

Clouds hover in the sky during the monsoon season, in Kochi.
| Photo Credit: –

All the 1,034 local bodies of the State have come up with disaster mitigation plans, which have been fine-tuned through consultative processes. Disaster management and mitigation measures and risk-informed development process have been decentralised and woven into the working patterns of the local bodies, he explains. 

Kerala has tested ‘common alerting protocol’ messaging services in 2018 and started using location based messaging services from 2018. “We have also deployed sirens and strobe lights for early warning sirens,” he says. 

However, K.G. Thara, former head of the Disaster Management Centre at the Institute of Land and Disaster Management (ILDM), Thiruvananthapuram, feels that much more needs to be achieved in the State to meet the challenges. The State is yet to prepare micro-level flood maps, which can adversely affect the operations at local levels. The disaster management plans should be revised and updated by incorporating the flood data of two previous floods, she says. 

“A realisation needs to dawn in that Kerala is going to face various forms of disasters and climate vagaries year after year. Short and long-term preparedness programmes need to be evolved. When it comes to addressing landslips, focus shall be on structural and non-structural measures for slope improvement. Long-term drought management mechanism is yet to get adequate attention as the focus is mostly on short-term steps such as setting up water kiosks,” she feels. 

The decision-making process of the management and mitigation measures should be a centralised process at the district level whereas the responsibility of its implementation should be at the local level, suggesting a correction course in the planning and implementing process, says Dr. Thara. 

Disaster management, says Dr. Thara, is also about ensuring livelihood options for the victims. Livelihood options shall be ensured for vulnerable populations such as fishermen.

Dr. Kuriakose quickly points out that the few years saw the Kerala State Disaster Management Authority grow to include 50 sectoral specialists. Going beyond the mandatory role of preparing the standard operation protocols and guidelines for handling various disaster situations, the authority has come up with action plans to deal with heat and lightning disasters. Plans are afoot to introduce an early warning and alert system, he says. 

Faizal T. Illyas, project manager of the Andhra Pradesh Disaster Management Authority, who had earlier worked with the ILDM, feels that the better infrastructure in Kerala makes disaster management and mitigation measures easier when compared to other States. 

However, the State is yet to make the most of the technological advancements for improving disaster management and mitigation measures. States such as Andhra Pradesh are leagues ahead in assimilating the technological advancements into the process, he says. 

The Andhra Pradesh government will launch a location-specific alert and warning system, which will send out an alert and siren to mobile phones of people in a particular locality. The siren and alerts, which can be delivered in two minutes, will be useful to warn people in case of general emergencies or specific instances of chemical accidents or gas leaks, he says. 

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