Kerala, After The Flood: Ravaged homes may push many to brink of mental breakdown as restoration becomes monumental task

Editor's note: Described as one of the worst since 1924 by Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, the rains in Kerala have left over 350 dead and rendered thousands of people homeless. According to the latest tally, 80,000 have been rescued so far. Over 1,500 relief camps have been set up across the state that currently house at least 2,23,139 people. In a multi-part series, Firstpost will attempt to analyse the short-term and long-term impact of these unprecedented floods on the lives of the people, economy of the state, and the environment.

Shocked by the sight of his ruined house, a 64-year-old person in Ernakulam allegedly committed suicide on Wednesday. Rocky, a resident of Kothad, was found hanging inside his damaged house a day after he returned home from the relief camp.

Varappuzha police said that Rocky, who worked as a casual labourer, had left the camp along with his wife and children on Tuesday to clean up the house. As the house was in a bad shape, the other members of the family moved to a relative’s house.

A man cleans up his house after flood water subsided, in Puthenvelikkara near Kochi on Wednesday. PTI

A man cleans up his house after flood water subsided, in Puthenvelikkara near Kochi on Wednesday. PTI

Rocky, who stayed back ended his life distressed by the condition of the house as well as the loss of household equipment he suffered in the flood. Psychiatrists and social activists have viewed the death as the beginning of another tragedy unfolding post-flood.

Psychiatrist Mohan Roy said that the extensive loss individuals have suffered in the calamity could evoke acute stress reaction and trigger adjustment disorders. Roy, who served as WHO coordinator of post-tsunami mental rehabilitation, told Firstpost that the flood-induced issues would be huge since it has displaced more than 1.5 million people.

Social activists said that the effort that the displaced people need to bring the house back to liveable condition could confound the problem. Benoy Peter of Centre for Migration and Inclusive Development (CMID) said that cleaning the flood-ravaged houses was a hazardous job that cannot be handled by people without the skill.

The process has already claimed the lives of four people in Ernakulam district. The four, deceased who included two women, died while cleaning their flooded houses at Kalady on 22 August. The flood in Periyar river had submerged most of the houses on the bank of the river at Kalady, Perumbavoor, Aluva and Cheranellur.

The cause of the deaths of the four people is not known immediately. Experts said that cracks in houses and leaks in electrical fittings and gas pipelines can pose risk to the lives. A KSDMA official has advised people to return home only after ensuring that the house is safe to live in terms of structure, electrical, cooking gas, etc.

“There is also a danger of snakes lurking around. Machinery may not work. There has to be a lot of caution in going back home in the affected places. Families should get the houses inspected before leaving the relief camps,” said the official.

However, the government or any of its agencies have not made adequate arrangements to make available the services of technically competent people to carry out the inspection. Unable to find any help, many in affected areas have started doing it themselves risking their lives.

Although several voluntary agencies have come forward to clean the house, there is an acute shortage of technicians to inspect the damage to the house and leaks in electrical fittings. More than three lakh families are waiting in the relief camps to return home.

According to Kerala Disaster Management Authority (KSDMA) control room, there are 11.35 lakh people in 3,076 relief camps in the affected districts of Alappuzha, Ernakulam, Pathanamthitta, Thrissur, Kottayam, Wayanad etc. as on Thursday. The number of displaced families is 3.06 lakh.

The maximum number of people living in the relief camps is in Alappuzha district. An official of KSDMA at Alappuzha said that 3.08 lakh people from as many as 83,593 families are housed in 699 camps in the district. Majority of the people is from Kuttanad region, which lies below the sea level.

“The people from Kuttanad will not be able to return home soon as many places in the area are still under water. The flood water is not flowing into the sea as the canals in several places are choked with silt from the ocean. Water will not recede until the silt is removed,” the official who did not want to be identified.

The official said that the administration had sought dredgers from irrigation department to remove the silt. He said that it may take several days to clear the silt and added that the people in the relief camps may not be able to return home until then.

After this only, people will be able to repair and clean their houses and make them liveable. They also need to pump out water from the paddy fields and the surroundings to drive out mosquitos and bacteria that can cause various communicable diseases.

Many people in Kuttanad, which face a perennial problem of floods during monsoon, have started exploring the option of migrating to highlands in Kottayam and Pathanamthitta districts. Sunny, a real estate agent at Changanacherry, said he has been getting a number of inquiries for ready to move houses in the area following the flood.

A large number of people, especially those working in foreign countries, have already migrated to Changancherry, Tiruvalla and other parts of Kottayam and Pathanamthitta districts. Kuttanad is vulnerable to floods since four major rivers — Pampa, Achenkoil, Manimala and Meenachil — drain into the Kuttanad trough.

The flood has shaken the confidence of people living on the banks of Periyar river too. Many people living in rented houses in Aluva have started scouting for houses in Kochi.

Thomas Thottungal, whose house at Aluva was submerged in water, has already moved to a rented house in the city after his efforts to restore the house to the previous condition failed.

“I inspected the house twice. The entire lower floor is covered with mud and various types of reptiles. Even if they are removed I don’t think it is safe for my family to live in the house. I am also not sure that a situation like this will not recur next year," said Thomas, who works in an IT firm at Kakakanad.

T Suresh, who lives at Aluva Manappuram, said he was planning to dispose his house and move to a safer area. Suresh and his six-member family, including aged parents, had remained trapped on the terrace of his house for five days without food and water. He was evacuated by fishermen from Chellanam.

Rajesh and his family staying at the Aluva UC College camp said he was eager to return home, but his parents were scared to go back to the house as they fear that the flood may have weakened the structure.

This is the major worry for many others too. The flood has destroyed hundreds of houses fully and thousands partially. The official agencies are yet to take account of the number of damaged houses and the extent of the damage.

Care Ratings, which made a preliminary assessment of the economic and industrial impact of the flood, has put the number of destroyed/damaged houses at 22,000 on the basis of reports from government and few other sources.

Revenue officials said it will be more as the reports were based on available data from the field. A senior official said that the number of damaged houses alone could be between 50,000 and 75,000. The final details will be available only when the people in the relief camps return home.

As many as 71,000 families (2.72 lakh people) are languishing in 476 relief camps in Ernakulam district and 61,525 families (2.46 lakh people) in Thrissur district. Another 90,000 families are living in about 1,200 camps in Pathanamthitta, Kottayam, Wayanad, Kozhikode and other districts.

Returning back home and regaining the rhythm of their life is a tough proposition for the majority of these people.


Updated Date: Aug 23, 2018 18:07 PM

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