Kerala floods: Replenish wetlands, paddy fields or perish

With the state at the receiving end of nature’s fury, is it time to re-evaluate our approach to land and water? Express examines

Published: 12th August 2018 02:04 AM  |   Last Updated: 12th August 2018 02:04 AM   |  A+A-

A residential area inundated by the recent flash floods in Palakkad | melton antony

Express News Service

KOCHI: The name Kerala brings to mind a dozen shades of green. The lush green paddy fields, the enchanting backwaters, the pristine hills and forests and the perennial rivers and streams paint a picture of prosperity.

Despite receiving an annual rainfall of 3,107 mm a year, the summers have been harsh in the state for the past couple of decades. A state that receives around 7,030 crore cubic metres of water during the monsoon season scrambles during the summer season. Around 80 per cent of the water we receive during the monsoon season flows into the Arabian Sea.

IN PICS | Life comes to a standstill in Kerala due to incessant rains

The rivers and wells dry up by the end of February and for the next three months, Malaya lees queue up on the streets with empty pots waiting for the water tankers. It has been a journey from plenitude to scarcity for the state, which boasts of its abundant water resources. However, fast urbanisation has led to the conversion of wetlands and paddy fields which have played a major role in conserving the ecosystem. With paddy fields being converted into commercial plots, many natural streams have disappeared.

The mining of paddy fields and wetlands for brick and tile industries has led to the depletion of water level in many parts of the state. Wells have dried up due to depletion of groundwater and the people have gone on a borewell-sinking spree. However, the borewell sunk one year will go dry the following year. The density of borewells is leading to fast depletion of groundwater resources with no recharge happening in the state.

READ | CM Pinarayi Vijayan visits flood-affected Wayanad, announces financial aid

The long network of roads, the density of houses and the culture of concreting the front yard leave little space for rainwater to sink into the earth. If it rains in the high ranges, the water will reach the Arabian Sea within 48 hours. Apart from a dozen dams Kerala has no system to conserve water. Kerala has got a lesson to learn from Tamil Nadu, a water-starved state, which has constructed tanks across the state to store rainwater.

“Kerala had the best natural water conservation system, which was unique,” said National Centre for Earth Science Studies director K K Ramachandran.

“We have destroyed our chain of natural ponds which played a crucial role in water conservation. Kollengode in Palakkad district was a classic example of this model. There were 650 ponds in Kollengode which was the most effective watershed programme. Our paddy fields had streams that drained the water to the ponds at the tail end. Now the paddy fields have been converted and the streams have disappeared. We have to revive this natural system to ensure conservation of water for future.”

M G University School of Environmental Sciences director C T Aravindakumar said Kerala has lost around 60 per cent of its paddy fields and wetlands which played an important role in water conservation.
“We had an open network of rivers, streams, ponds and backwaters to divert the flood waters. But rampant urbanisation has led to blocking of natural drains which results in floods. We destroy the wetlands and store water at the wrong place.”

Disaster Management Plan Profile Says...

The increasing vulnerabilities due to a variety of factors compounded the disaster risks in the state. The enactment of Kerala State Disaster Management Rules, 2007 and promulgation of Kerala State Disaster Management Policy, 2010 in line with National DM Act, 2005 marked defining steps towards holistic disaster management .

14.8% of the state is prone to flooding (CESS, 2010). Apart from floods, the mountain regions of the state experience several landslides during the monsoon season. It is known a total of 65 fatal landslides occurred between 1961 and 2009 causing the death of 257 individuals

High intensity of rainfall during the monsoon causes severe floods. Increasing flood plain occupancy and reclamation of water bodies and wetlands result in increasing flood damages. 14.8 per cent of the total area in the state is prone to floods

In Alappuzha district, more than 50 per cent area is identified as flood-prone. These are mostly confined to Kuttanad region that hosts seasonally waterlogged flat lands with anastomosing waterways connected to Vembanad lake. The Kole lands of Thrissur district, the coastal tracts of Ernakulam and Malappuram districts and the western part of Kottayam district are  prone to floods. Even though Wayanad district is located at an elevated plateau region, flood prone areas are noted in the broad flat bottom valleys and flood plains adjacent to Mananthavadi

LANDSLIDE

A study reveals 1,848 sqkm or 4.71 per cent of the state is under high and 3,759 sqkm or 9.77 per cent under low hazard categories. Devikulam, Vythiri, Nilambur, Mannarkad and Ranni are the most landslide-prone taluks in the state

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