UN expert warns of more floods in Kerala

An elderly woman is rescued in a cooking utensil after her home was flooded in Thrissur, Kerala state, India.- AP
An elderly woman is rescued in a cooking utensil after her home was flooded in Thrissur, Kerala state, India.- AP

Abu Dhabi - Abu Dhabi - Kerala has been reeling under unprecedented flooding that has displaced more than 600,000 people.



By Anjana Sankar

Published: Mon 20 Aug 2018, 12:00 AM

Last updated: Tue 27 Dec 2022, 10:31 AM

Climate change happening across the world will accelerate the next occurrence of floods in Kerala, and hence rebuilding efforts should have fundamental changes in land use and infrastructure planning, a UN expert has warned.

The last major flood in Kerala was in 1924, which means the current flood is happening after 94 years. The next flood will not wait for another 94 years. This is going to happen soon, Muralee Thummarukudy, head of disaster risk reduction in the UN Environment, told Khaleej Times.

Muralee with the Remote Rescue Operation Desk in Abu Dhabi.-Supplied Photo

Kerala has been reeling under unprecedented flooding that has displaced more than 600,000 people. Large scale damage and destruction has wreaked havoc in the South Indian state where more than 370 people are reported dead so far.

"Floods are cyclical. If there is a flood once, it will come back again. Whether it will happen in 20 years, 50 years, you cannot predict. What is predictable is that climate change which is happening across the globe is going to accelerate the rate at which the extreme events are happening," said the global expert, who has managed various disasters across the world including the Pakistan floods in 2010 and Thailand floods in 2011.

Thummarukudy is currently stranded in Abu Dhabi enroute to Kerala on a personal visit. "Even my home got flooded," he said.

The UN official, who is also a prominent social media presence among Keralites with more than 75,000 followers, said Kerala will need three levels of activity once the state begins the rebuilding activities.

By Sunday, water has started receding in many rivers and the government has lifted the red alert in many districts. Though rescue operations still continue, very soon people are expected to go back to their homes.

"What can they expect is a big question in the short term. There will be lot of muck and many houses will be damaged in various degrees. The cleanup of the houses has to be done in thorough professional and safe manner. People need safety gears like Wellington boots, hand gloves, high-pressure water jets etc., which are not commonly used in Kerala and supply chains don't exist."

Thummarukudy said he has been mobilising efforts, in his personal capacity and through his social media followers, to develop safety guidelines and manuals, which volunteers and families can follow.

"Many communities will be groping in the dark as the scale of damage is something they have never dealt with. My aim is have a check list on house safety, electrical safety, sanitation, community rebuilding, insurance claims etc that will help and guide people when they start rebuilding their lives. If proper safety standards are not followed, it could lead to more deaths and damages."

Thummarukudy said the massive waste management problem is something the state will have to deal with. "Some other disasters I have managed, one week of flooding has created an equivalent of ten years of solid waste from that city. If the city cannot even manage the normal solid waste, you can imagine what kind of pressure it is going to put on the waste management system."

Rebuilding flood-affected areas

In terms of rebuilding of commercial establishment and infrastructure, Muralee Thummarukudy, head of disaster risk reduction in the UN Environment, said the state will need billions of dollars. "It will take may be five years or more. It is a humungous challenge to know where the money will come from and how we are going to handle it."

But the biggest challenge, he said, is to ensure that communities are building back in a better and safer manner.

"The biggest challenge is how we will rebuild the infrastructure and also the society so that we do not pass on the risks, which we inherited, to the next generation. And that will require fundamental changes in the way we use and plan our land," said Thummarukudy.

He said land use management where properties are private is not an easy task anywhere in the world. And certainly it is not going to be easy in Kerala.

"But this is the time our generation can decide to make changes in the land use planning, in the way we build our houses, our occupation and our infrastructure, so that we have a safer and resilient society in future."


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