Kerala is in the thick of an unprecedented calamity. The fury of unceasing rainfall has sowed destruction across the length and breadth of the State. Only once in the past 100 years – in 1924 – such a large-scale and widespread devastation has hit the region. It is unparalleled that for the first-time, shutters of as many as 35 big and small dams have been opened leading to over-flowing rivers and submergence of vast areas. Adding to the flood woes are the devastating landslides. Vast swathes of hilly areas are seen crashing down bringing everything on the way under tons of dirt and debris. The death toll has crossed 350 and is spiraling up as reports slowly emerge from areas unreachable till now.
In the midst of such death and destruction, the unmatchable rescue and relief operations mounted by official organs and the people are heart-warming. When a catastrophe of such magnitude takes place, official machinery can not be expected to match the requirement. It has to be supplemented by voluntary organisations and individuals. And the people of Kerala have come out in large numbers girding up their loins and plunging into relief works showing exemplary courage and fortitude. Scenes of people carrying the aged and babies in their hands in waist-deep water are common. Magnanimity of people is in full flow leading to opening of floodgates of materials to relief camps.
Yet another shining example of people’s solidarity was seen when political leaders, who are usually seen getting at each other’s back at the fall of a hat, showed an unusual unity. None indulged in partisan blame-game over relief and rehabilitation, instead they are focusing on lending a helping hand.
However, official machinery available in the State and the people’s goodwill are not sufficient to take care of a calamity of this proportion. The Centre has dispatched army personnel, helicopters, lifeboats, etc. though more is needed to meet the gargantuan requirement. The Chief Minister’s SOS to the Prime Minister has been received positively. Mr. Modi’s aerial survey of the flood-pounded areas will hopefully lead to more aid reaching the State. What is urgently needed is to hand over a major chunk of operations to the Army which has the resources to deal with the situation on war-footing. Army personnel have the training and expertise compared to the local resources. The Army has the wherewithal to fan out swiftly to unreachable areas.
The flood fury and landslides might end soon. But it will not be the end of the problems. Another set of difficulties will crop up for the government at all levels, the most crucial among them is the outbreak of epidemics. Making the submerged houses livable will be another herculean task for lakhs of people. For many who lost their houses, built by spending the savings of a life-time, it will be ‘next to impossible’ to go for reconstruction unless help comes from government or other agencies. There is also need for taking a fresh look at relocating people from ‘hazard zones’ along the rivers that are in spate to avoid a yearly repeat of the tragedy and trauma. All these require a long-term planning which is possible only when leaders, succumbing to political lines, do not try to scuttle expert advices.(Published on 20th August 2018, Volume XXX, Issue 34)