Major floods cause severe damage in India

By Muhammad Siddiqui
Staff Writer

Displaced Kerala residents seek shelter. (AP Photo)

Heavy rains in Kerala, a coastal state in southern India, have displaced hundreds of thousands of people since the start of monsoon season in May.

The heaviest rains, which began on Aug. 8, have swept away entire homes, bridges and villages in the floodwaters and landslides, according to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

More than 190 people have been killed due to the most recent rains in Kerala, and at least 370 people have died since the start of monsoon season, according to Al Jazeera.

It is estimated that 800,000 people have been displaced as a result of the recent rains, but Kerala’s finance minister T. M. Thomas Isaac told Al Jazeera that he estimates 1.5 million citizens are displaced once those who have relocated with family and friends are taken into account.

The rains have begun to ease up as of Aug. 19, giving first responders and rescuers time to aid those affected by the worst flooding to hit the Indian state in more than a century, according to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

Since the start of Kerala’s monsoon season, rains have been unusually heavy, exceeding previous years’ average rainfalls for the entire season, according to Al Jazeera. In addition to the damage caused thus far, the monsoon season is still expected to last for at least another month.

More than 200,000 displaced families have found refuge in relief camps, and the Indian government has pledged to give the state an immediate grant of 5 billion rupees (around $71 million), according to BBC.

Survivors in relief camps are still coping with a lack of food, clean drinking water, power and medicine. Officials are growing increasingly concerned with the possibility of waterborne disease outbreaks caused by the hazardous conditions, according to BBC.

As the rains have recently subsided, officials had the opportunity to focus relief efforts on those who have been stranded for days. The Indian Army, Airforce and Navy, alongside members of the National Disaster Response Force, sent troops and boats to the region, according to Al Jazeera. Their efforts focused on search and rescue and airdropping supplies to isolated areas.

Many, however, are calling local fishermen the “unsung heroes” of the flood. Isaac told Al Jazeera that more than 500 fishing boats have been used in the relief effort.

Some fishermen have reportedly been putting their lives in danger, without safety guards or the proper equipment, to reach those stuck in areas that government rescuers deemed too risky reach. In a phone interview with Al Jazeera, one graduate student recounted, “‘If it wasn’t for them (fishermen), I would’ve died inside the flat.’”

More aid is expected to arrive in the area, as the state plans to renegotiate its aid grant with the central government. According to the Australian Broadcast Corporation, the cost of damages is currently estimated to be near $3 billion, but is expected to rise before the monsoon season comes to an end.

One-third of the roads have been damaged, with the repair estimated to cost about 1 billion rupees ($14.3 million). Moreover, Isaac told Al Jazeera that water systems will need to be rebuilt with aid from multinational agencies.

Many foreign donations have been pledged, particularly from individuals in the United Arab Emirates. The UAE Prime Minister ordered the formation of an emergency committee to provide aid to the flood victims, according to The Hindu.