Kerala crisis

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Deaths of more than 300 persons and loss to property due to unprecedented floods triggered by continued heavy rains in Kerala is both unfortunate and tragic. Apart from this, more than three lakh people have been rendered homeless and have been forced to take shelter in relief camps and still many others are waiting for rescue and relief operations in 11 districts of the state. It is also unfortunate that the rescue and relief operations have been delayed due to apathetic attitude of the government at the centre. The cash assistance of Rs 500 crore announced by the central government and immediate relief operations in Kerala also appears to be to meagre for the disaster unleashed by the floods. The immediate demand of the Kerala government was to the extent of Rs 2000 crore which was in no way very high in view of the losses suffered to the life and property of the people. It is unfortunate that the central government has not come up to the aspirations of the people in the non-BJP ruled state. The unprecedented deluge due to heavy rains, overflowing rivers, brimming dams and massive landslips has overwhelmed the state government and rescue agencies, as they struggle to make a complete assessment of the devastation. The state government faces the challenging and uphill task of rescuing people who are marooned in far-flung houses in several districts and providing them food and water until the teams get to them. At least 2.50 lakh people have already been moved to more than 2000 relief camps till date with more waiting to join. A respite in rainfall has aided the relief efforts, but as Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan acknowledged, it will take a major effort, using a combination of boats and aircraft from the Air Force, the Navy and the Coast Guard and legions of rescue personnel, to get all the stranded people to safety. The reduction in rainfall should help the National Disaster Response Force, which has committed 55 teams besides more than 70 teams from the IAF intensify their efforts to reach those who are stranded. In fact, disaster management units in other states should also help those working on the ground to deal with Kerala’s unprecedented floods; apart from helping, they will gain valuable experience as well. Moving forward, the task of reconstruction will have to be addressed at a later date, covering public buildings, residential homes, roads and other infrastructure. A humane and subsidised housing programme may be required in the worst-hit areas, with tax breaks offered to residents. Besides providing them the basic wherewithal after the flood waters recede in the days to come. The outpouring of goodwill and support from across the country and even abroad for the flood affected people in Kerala has been a good sign. The state government has acted quickly to make online contributions to the Chief Minister’s Distress Relief Fund possible through a dedicated portal. Liberal donations will help the government in large-scale relief operations at this hour of need and post-flood rehabilitation initiatives. Support groups from neighbouring states such as Tamil Nadu and Karnataka have begun sending relief material, although the disruption to road connectivity has left a lot of it stranded at the inter-state borders. The volunteer efforts can be better targeted if the district authorities in Kerala put out advisories on the nature of relief needed, and the locations and the modalities of transfer. But immediately, it is important to continue with the air-dropping of food, water, candles, matches and other essentials to the worst-hit areas. Many control rooms have been opened, but integrating the mechanism by merging the various phone numbers into three or four, at one per region, and allocating sufficient communication lines, will help citizens use them with ease. It is hoped that with respite in continued rains, the worst is over. With dams packed to the full and overflowing rivers, Kerala desperately needs a benign shift in the weather to be able to cope with a disaster on a scale it has never seen before. The people of Kerala indeed need all the support they can get at this stage and the days to come.