Is India Prepared For The Post-Flood Cleanup In Kerala?

As floodwaters begin to recede and rains have lessened, Kerala faces a significant cleanup from devastating floods that wreaked havoc across the region. Considered the southern state’s worst floods in almost a century, they resulted in the deaths of 400 people and the displacement of a further 1.8 million.

The flooding occurred when torrential rains in the midst of the country’s monsoon season increased significantly after the first week of August. Flooding and landslides forced an estimated 700,000 people to seek shelter in emergency relief camps, sparking fears of disease outbreaks. Between 1 August and 20 August, Kerala received more than 2.5 times its average rainfall amount (around 771mm), the most since August 1931. As a result, 35 of the state’s 42 dams were opened for the very first time, the international airport was closed due to runway flooding, 80% of the state was without power, and fisherman from across the state participated in rescue efforts with their own boats and equipment alongside the army, navy, coast guard, and air force.

Building on previous difficulties and past mistakes made during disasters like the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami that hit large parts of Asia, the Indian government has changed the way it responds to emergencies by strengthening its disaster relief agencies and modelling them on the US Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Their response to the flooding has been commended, but whether or not they have the funds to support Kerala has been brought into question, particularly after the government declined an aid offer of US$100 million from the United Arab Emirates. The central government has pledged US$85 million for the recovery, but the cost of the cleanup and repair work has been estimated at US$3 billion by Kerala’s finance minister, Thomas Isaac.

A spokesman from the Ministry of External Affairs stated that “in line with the existing policy, the government is committed to meeting the requirements for relief and rehabilitation through domestic efforts.”

India’s reluctance to accept foreign aid may come in part from pride and a desire to no longer be seen as a nation mired in poverty, while the requirement that individuals and organizations donate directly to the government’s relief fund – allowing it to control how the money is spent – is likely due to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s reported distrust of NGOs and their external influence.

However, Kerala’s state government has argued that the central government is allowed to accept foreign aid, as per the 2016 National Disaster Management Plan, but if not it should provide funds equivalent to the amount of foreign aid offered to support relief efforts. Some Kerala state government officials have claimed the central government is punishing them for their lack of support for the central government’s ruling right-wing party.

Whether India is able to adequately provide for the relief efforts in the state remains to be seen, particularly if politics become further involved and international aid continues to be rejected. The state is in dire need of immediate funding to help move relief efforts forward – particularly to fix sanitation systems, health centres, and power grids, and to provide food and drinking water supplies – and this should be a top priority for the state and central governments.

Ashika Manu