Kerala, After The Flood: Having barely recovered from deluge, state must quickly prepare for impending drought
Like the Japanese who have learned to live with earthquakes, Kerala should develop its own defence mechanism to brave draughts, floods, sea erosion, landslides and unforeseen calamities which may strike without notice.
Close on the heels of the devastating deluge, Kerala seems to be slated to face a severe drought. If the indications are to be taken as a prophetic foreboding of yet another natural calamity, Kerala is in a very precarious state.
The gushing rivers have started drying up. Periyar is now flaunting sandbanks throughout its course. The water level in Bharathapuzha has gone down drastically. Challakudy river which caused massive destruction in Trichur district now remains an apology for a river. Wells are caving in. The water table in some wells has gone down by 20 feet. Strange phenomena are also taking place. Earthworms have started coming out of their burrows in the ground only to wreath and wriggle to death. Scientific observers feel that this portends the heat challenge which makes it impossible for the worms to survive. If the rainfall in the north-east monsoon shows a drastic decline, then Kerala is sure going to have a severe drought.
Reports show that after getting 250 percent more rainfall than usual in mid-August, the total rainfall in the state plummeted by 86 percent at the beginning of September. Since the sand bed in the rivers have been destroyed, percolation of flood waters to the ground has been grossly inadequate. The groundwater table has come down. Human interference with wetlands has destroyed our natural sink. The second coming of calamity seems to be imminent. The apocalyptic vision of ‘things fall apart, the centre cannot hold’, appears a bit frightening.
The state has to necessarily gear up to meet the exigency. With the same determination and esprit de corps demonstrated in the field during the deluge, the state will certainly be able to face the challenge. Here are a few snippets for the timely attention of the authorities on the way ahead:
• There is the immediate need to activate the disaster management machinery at the state and district level and to hold meetings sufficiently in advance. All information should be gathered, data should be analysed so that drought can be declared at the right time.
• It is the onus of the state government to keep the strategy for drought management and the contingency plan ready in consultation with all departments and stakeholders
• Sufficient funds should be allocated to the districts and departments without delay.
• Water sources should be effectively monitored on a daily, weekly, monthly basis. The amount of rainfall, groundwater, water levels in the reservoirs and other water bodies should be monitored.
• Steps must be taken to reserve water in reservoirs for drinking, commercial, industrial and agricultural purposes in an equitable manner, priority being for drinking water. Temporary water supply schemes should be launched as per requirements and water supply through tankers, trains and other means should be arranged where ever needed. Either restriction or complete ban on digging of bore wells should be implemented.
• Crop management
The departments of agriculture, revenue, agricultural universities and other participating agencies should jointly undertake crop management activities and monitor soil moistures, the area under sowing, types of crop, the status of growth and alternative cropping possibilities. It must be ensured that seeds for second sowing are procured and distributed seamlessly. A crop contingency plan with drought-resistant varieties should be developed. The crop insurance premium should be paid promptly.
• Fodder management
It must be ensured that enough fodder is made available for the cattle. If need be, fodder should be brought from other states. Cattle camps should be opened as per needs and the cattle should be vaccinated appropriately.
Various employment generation schemes of the government should be coordinated and relief employment should be provided to the affected people. If the need arises new employment schemes should be launched on a temporary basis.
• Food security
There must be a coordination among multiple stakeholders such as the Food Corporation of India, civil supplies agencies, warehouses and others to ensure adequate stock and proper distribution of food, with focus on avoiding spot scarcity. Kerosene and other fuel should be procured well in time and made available to the people, especially farmers.
• Distribution of relief assistance
The relief assistance should be paid on time. Sufficient funds should be made available to the authorities concerned.
Like the Japanese who have learned to live with earthquakes, Kerala should develop its own defence mechanism to brave draughts, floods, sea erosion, landslides and unforeseen calamities which may strike without notice. After all, to be forewarned is to be forearmed. There is something which the common man would insist upon. Never make political hay when the drought sun shines.
The author is a former drought relief commissioner.
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