Drought in the Western Ghats Part 3: Ambulance service supplies water to 700 families in Kerala's Kottayam
A man with an ambulance brings water free of cost to 700 families in Kottayam, Kerala, as the effects of drought and destruction of the Western Ghats depletes groundwater reserves in the state.
Editor's note: This is the third piece in a multi-part series on the nature of human excesses that have imperiled the fragile ecosystem of the Western Ghats, home to at least 325 globally threatened species of flora and fauna, by United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation's reckoning.
Around 700 families in Kottayam town, a central Kerala district – where a 78 km long river flows and is home to the largest lake in India – were struggling to get drinking water until three weeks ago.
With groundwater levels declining at an alarming rate, the government tankers were not able to meet the rising demand and reach out to the needy. And in the heart of the town, women and children had to walk at least a kilometre and wait for long hours to get water from tanker distribution points. Their struggle, however, has been eased now. They get water at their doorsteps.
All this is thanks to Binoop Anandkumar, who runs an ambulance unit in town. He has distributed around 1.5 lakh litres of water to the families free of cost.
“I was aware of the water scarcity. But I never thought that it would be a disaster at this level. One day while on duty, I noticed women standing in long queues holding water cans in one hand and their children in other hand to collect water,” Anandkumar told Firstpost.
“I was disturbed seeing the long queues. I learnt that the government itself is struggling to meet the demand and moreover, it is difficult for the big tankers to reach houses in the remote areas. So, I took the initiative,” he added.
Anandkumar bought water from suppliers in town and started to distribute in his own ambulances. “Big tankers won’t be able to reach many of the houses in the town due to small roads. There my ambulances came to help. We reached out to each and every house in the three wards,” he explained.
When asked how long will he continue to supply, Anandkumar said that as water shortages will most likely to continue throughout the summer, he has no plans of slowing down and plans to continue his free drinking water ambulance service for as long as people need it.
In the town, there are 52 wards. Out of it, Anandkumar distributes water at ward numbers 30, 43 and 44.
Sanil Thampi, a councillor at ward number 44, said that Anandkumar’s initiative is a commendable one and won’t be forgotten. “People were struggling a lot. Many of the families were not getting water. Due to lack of proper roads, tankers were struggling to reach out to families. People had to walk to common water distribution points. It was a worrisome situation,” Sanil told Firstpost.
“When I discussed this with Anandkumar, he was willing to chip in. Every year, he gives funds to churches and temples to hold entertainment programmes, so, when we talked about the water shortage, he decided to provide money and logistical support to ease the water scarcity,” Sanil added.
There is no municipality pipeline to the two affected wards and the residents are dependent upon the 7,000 litres of water supplied every week by the municipality, an amount that is inadequate to cater to the needs of all the residents.
Anandkumar supplies around 13,000 litres of water four times a week in the three wards. In addition to using his ambulances, Anandkumar has also hired tankers to supply water.
In February, the district authorities reported that the groundwater level in the area was declining at an alarming rate, raising concerns over impending water shortages. The state groundwater department reported that the level was 2 metres less than what it was during the same time the previous year, evidencing the need for immediate action on the issue.
TN Seema, CEO of State Green Mission, said that deforestation has hit the state badly. “Not only cities like Kottayam, even villages on the foothills of the Western Ghats, are suffering from water scarcity. We have to wake up. We have to protect our lakes and rivers. We have to protect our water reserves. Otherwise, we will be suffering a lot in the coming years,” Seema added.
In November 2016 itself, the Kerala State Drought Monitoring Cell had forecast that 61 villages in Kottayam district would be hit by severe drought and 31 by moderate drought. Reji Malayalapuzha, a green activist in Pathanamthitta bordering Kottayam district, said that due to less rain in 2016 and deforestation in the Western Ghats, rivers originating from the mountains were seen drying up at many places this year leading to water scarcity and drought in Kottayam, Pathanamthitta and Idukki districts.
“Meeanchil and Manimala, the two rivers which are the lifeline of Kottayam district, originate from the Western Ghats. They too faced the same fate. Many of their streams are drying up in many places,” Malayalapuzha added.
By the end of 2016, the Central Ground Water Board found that groundwater levels in the state have reduced by 4 feet. In the study conducted in around 1,334 wells in 14 districts of the state, water levels were found reduced in 1,107 (82.92 percent) of the wells. According to the findings, out of the 98 wells examined in Kottayam district, water levels were decreasing in 17 wells.
The State Green Mission is not only holding different kind of awareness campaigns to protect water sources, it also is initiating river and lake cleaning programmes with help of local bodies all over the state to overcome the water crisis.
Kerala is reeling under the worst-ever drought in 115 years. It began with a deficient Southwest Monsoon during the four months from 1 June to 30 September. All the 14 districts received below average rain – the deficit ranged from 24 percent in Ernakulam district to 59 percent in Wayanad district.
The Northeast Monsoon between 1 October and 1 December in 2016 also failed to bring cheer as the state recorded a rainfall deficit of 67 percent. Altogether, the state got 185 mm of rainfall, which is about 33 percent of the normal rainfall of 480.7 mm.
In March, there was some relief when summer rain lashed almost all parts of the state, except the northern district of Kasargod. Against the average of 18.1 mm of summer rain, the state received 83.5 mm this year, a massive increase of 362 percent.
While the rain brought some cheer to farmers, it was not enough to offset the failed monsoon seasons of 2016, or recharge well, lakes and rivers, he said.
Part 1: Urbanisation demands see hills sacrificed to whims of mining, industry lobbies
Part 2: How deforestation saved ecologically-sensitive hills in Kerala
Part 4: In Kerala's Wayanad, acute water scarcity leading to man-animal conflict
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