Flood And Fury: Kerala's 2018 floods was only a preview to the future awaiting us

The effect of global warming and deforestation is felt more across the high ranges of Kerala situated in the Western Ghats.

Rainfall Patterns Disrupted

Wayanad, in particular, had many kinds of rains — rains that came down as a soft drizzle, fondly called  noolmazha (literally: ‘thread rain’), like thin silk threads, falling on your face and shoulders; the misty, dewy rain that suddenly appeared from nowhere and disappeared behind the woods. The romance of the mist and rains was one of the main aspects that lured many tourists to Wayanad. These rains, though, had a great utilitarian value for the estates as they provided a temperate climate conducive to the plantation crops. Raman says Wayanad, like most parts of Kerala, had six different types of rains till very recently. Each came with a distinct sound, pace, colour and even smell. The rains have names starting with the names of Malayalam months. It began with Kumba mazha (rain), the summer rains in February that cleared the dirt in the atmosphere. Then came the Meda mazha or Vishu mazha (in April), which was short and brisk, but this rain makes the parched land ready for farming. Tuber crops like yam and colocasia are planted. At the beginning of Edavapathi (May–June), the south-west monsoon arrives. The paddy fields are set to be irrigated. The Midhuna mazha (August rain) brings copious rainfall, and as the plains get flooded, the groundwater levels are replenished. The Chinga mazha (September rain) is soft and fun-loving, and the rain plays hide-and-seek, drizzling even in the sunshine. The Tula mazha (in October) is accompanied by heavy thunderstorms, signalling the end of the south-west monsoon.

 Flood And Fury: Keralas 2018 floods was only a preview to the future awaiting us

People engage in flood rescue work after Kakkayam dam was opened following heavy monsoon rainfall, in Kozhikode on Thursday, Aug 16, 2018. image credit: PTI Photo

‘For hundreds of years, we have been cultivating crops as per the monsoon calendar. The regular rain pattern has been destroyed forever. In the last few years, except last year, which had heavy rainfall in August, there has been  a deficit in rainfall in Wayanad,’ he says. Raman’s observation on the density of rainfall is not off the mark. Several studies conducted by various research agencies in the last decade showed that Wayanad is going to face the brunt of climate change, which can be mitigated only through protection of the remaining forest cover. The density of rainfall in Wayanad has shown a decreasing trend in the four-year period between 2013 and 2017, data from the Indian Meteorological Department showed.2  In 2013 (between 1 June to 19 August), the district received 2436.2 mm rainfall; in 2014, the rainfall received was 2242.2 mm; by 2015, it was reduced to 1360.2 mm; in 2016, it was further reduced to 991.4 mm; in 2017, there was a slight increase to 1197.8 mm.

Further, a  detailed  study3  of  rainfall  data  collected in twenty-eight years, that is between 1983 and 2011, in Wayanad by researchers Danesh Kumar and Pavan Srinath showed that the number of days in a year that received a ‘moderate’ amount of rainfall (20–30 mm) was found to  be decreasing, but the number of  days  receiving  very  low or very high rainfall was increasing. The study said that major climate change trends observed in Wayanad included rising minimum temperatures, weakening in the early phase of the south-west monsoon precipitation, increasing polarization of daily rainfall and more frequent heavy rainfall days. Due to this water stress and climatic variability, the threat of drought looms over all livelihood- related activities in the region. The study noted: ‘Climate change is set to bring about gradual changes like the shift of climatic zones, increased temperature and changes in precipitation patterns. Along with gradual changes, climate change is very likely to increase the frequency and magnitude of extreme weather events such as droughts, floods and storms.’

There has also been a steady increase in temperature in the high ranges of the Western Ghats, temperature data taken from Wayanad and Idukki showed. The Kerala State Action Plan on Climate Change report, based on the temperature data recorded at the Regional Agricultural Research Station, Ambalavayal (Wayanad district) and Cardamom Research Station at Pampadumpara (Idukki district), under the Kerala Agricultural University studies, revealed that the maximum temperature over the high ranges of Kerala had increased by 1.46 degrees Celsius between 1984 and 2009.

book cover of Flood and Fury

book cover of Flood and Fury

‘It reveals that the effect of global warming and deforestation is felt more across the high ranges of Kerala situated in the Western Ghats, one of the hotspots of biodiversity,’ the report said.  The report stated that the microstudy done by Centre for Water Resources Development and Management at Kottamparaba showed that the mean of daily maximum temperature rose to the tune of 0.6 degrees Celsius during winter and 0.55 degrees Celsius during summer between 1983 and 2010.

The Indian Network for Climate Change Assessment, in its first report on the impact of climate change in four regions of the country, submitted to the Government of India, has pointed out that reduced rainfall, increased atmospheric temperature and flooding due to  sea-level rise are climate-change scenarios for the Western Ghats and Kerala in the next twenty years. Under the projected climate-change scenario, it is certain that the temperature is likely to increase by 2 degrees Celsius by 2050. The minimum surface air temperature in the Western Ghats region may rise by 2 degrees Celsius to 4.5 degrees Celsius. The average temperature in the region bordering Kerala is likely to rise by 1 degree Celsius to 3 degrees Celsius. The number of rainy days is likely to decrease along the entire western coast, including the Western Ghats.

An aerial view of Wayanad is a picturesque postcard image of a gently rolling valley of numerous hills on a green, forested table, with a few hills standing at a height of about 2100 metres. The name Wayanad perhaps originated from the words ‘vayal ’ (paddy field) and ‘naadu’ (country). Wayanad district was formed on 1 November 1980 as the twelfth district of Kerala by carving out regions from Kozhikode and Kannur districts. The district has a geographical area of 2130 square kilometres, of which 907.04 square kilometres are forest area.

Editor's Note: The following is an excerpt on the environmental threats of climate change and their effects on Wayanad in Kerala, from 'Flood and Fury: Ecological Devastation in the Western Ghats', a book by Viju B.

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