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This year’s monsoon in India’s southern state, Kerala, has suffered a deadly toll over the past ten days. As torrential rains reach unprecedented levels, the deaths resulting from flash floods and mudslides have risen to 357. Entire villages have been inundated and washed away, and over 350 000 victims have been forced to find shelter in relief camps. This climatic disaster been declared the worst flooding event of the century by the state’s chief minister, Pinarayi Vijayan.
Thousands of military troops equipped with boats and helicopters have assisted in the evacuation of civilians stranded on rooftops, trees, or submerged buildings with no power, food, or drinking water. Local fishermen have also assisted in this effort. However, in the ongoing downpour, the damaged or no-longer-existing roads, along with the outage of mobile phone networks, have hindered communication and evacuation activities.
Fortunately, as of Sunday, the rain has begun to subside, providing some consolation to aid workers and flood victims. Facing less obstruction from heavy rains, greater effects from relief operations are beginning to be felt. Officials believe that most of those who had been isolated in flooded areas have now been rescued.
Within the relief camps, aid workers are bracing themselves for water and air-borne disease outbreaks due to the crowded conditions. Most needed supplies include drinking water, medicine for diarrhea, rehydration powders, and tools to maintain good hygiene. The Indian government has pledged to allocate 71 million USD towards relief and aid efforts.
The ordeal is far from over, and the looming task of reconstruction is, without a doubt, daunting. Infrastructure damages are estimated at up to three billion USD thus far. The loss of essential roads and bridges will further seclude remote areas in the hilly areas of Kerela, which had been most greatly impacted by the monsoon. Hundreds of acres of crops have been destroyed, with an unknown number of livestock having perished. Hundreds of thousands have lost their homes, and hundreds more have lost their lives.
While monsoons are expected to cause annual flooding, Indian meteorologists determine that Kerala overall has received 37.5% more rainfall than usual. Moreover, the hardest hit areas received an unprecedented 83.5% more rain than average. Some scientist attribute the increasing magnitude of damage to deforestation in the area, as deforestation degrades the soil structure, which is detrimental to the soil’s water-holding capacity.
Natural disasters are devastating for everyone involved, and given what we have learnt from climate change, such events are expected to increase in frequency. Nations must devise better prevention, mitigation, and response measures to avoid such tragedies in the future. Policy makers and infrastructure designers will thus play an essential role in the years to come. Meanwhile, in Kerala, the coming weeks will be a trying test on the state’s infrastructure and their preparation for natural disasters.