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  • Writer's pictureBenny Kuriakose

Kerala Floods 2018: Flood Disaster Management and Effects

Kerala cannot be imagined without its rivers and canals. Its backwaters are renowned across the globe. The history of Kerala is incomplete without the mention of its sea, streams, and maritime trade. But a few years before in 2018, the outlook has changed and these beautiful backwaters have become a nightmare to the people of Kerala for days. It all started on 16 August 2018, unending unusually high rainfalls began which caused severe floods in the South Indian state of Kerala. 2018 Kerala Floods was the worst flood that happened in Kerala in nearly a century. The Indian Government announced it as a Level 3 Calamity, or "Calamity of a severe nature". The very next year, again Kerala was affected by another wild flood. In the low-lying areas of Kerala such as Kuttanadu, the floods continued every year as a series. Kerala has paid heavily. Many people died, hundreds of villages were affected, roads were damaged, and thousands of homes were destroyed. In a few days, Kerala has witnessed huge losses of life, basic facilities, infrastructure, livelihood and left in dismay as nothing was left. But throughout these tough times, the people of Kerala stood together.

Is Flooding a Manmade Disaster?

Humans have invariably settled along the flood plains of rivers. The first great civilizations, such as those in Indus Valley, Mesopotamia, and Egypt, all grew up in river valleys. Various historic cities have developed by the riverfronts. Regular flooding provides soil full of nutrients and plenty of water for agriculture and basic needs. But there is a trade-off between living by the riverside and the unforeseen severity of flood hazards. Traditionally, in flood-prone areas, people lived in elevated houses or elevated lands to safeguard them from water. With the construction of dams and decreased seasonal flooding, people started moving further or nearer to the river. This changed their construction patterns as well. But the distance from the river does not matter, it is the elevation that is critical.

Earlier the houses were on elevated grounds or sufficiently high plinths/ stilts
After construction of dams, insensitive building practices near river beds started

Why Kerala is Prone to Floods?

In Kerala, after the construction of dams, people started construction near the river bed. The changed construction pattern included construction in low-lying areas, landfills near the river beds, and buildings without sufficient elevation.

Even after the flood has receded, the water has stayed in many low-lying areas due to the lack of drainage. In such places, pumping is required.

Normal River Level
Scenario 1: Normal River Level
Average Flood Levels
Scenario 2: Average Flood Levels
Kerala 2018 Flood Level
Scenario 3: Kerala 2018 Flood Level
Stagnant floodwater in low lying areas
Scenario 4: Stagnant floodwater in low lying areas

Are we sinking?

The intensity of the destruction caused by the unpredicted Kerala Floods 2018 was unheard of in the history of Kerala. The 2019 flood has also caused huge damages and the flood is continuing for the past few years. The floods have impaired the lives and livelihoods of Keralites. The time has come that we need to rebuild Kerala, not just reconstruction but we need to plan eco-friendly and sustainable shields so that the restructured buildings could cope up with future floods.

Illustration On Kerala Flood

Floods and Climate Change

Climate change and global warming are the major concerns of today. The UN conference in Cancun, Mexico (2008) concluded that climate change is happening with catastrophic consequences and the various steps taken have fallen short. The sea level is expected to rise between 0.8 to 2 meters by 2100 AD. This is much higher compared with the rise in the last century, which is between 0.1 to 0.2 meters. Future images of coastal cities like Kochi, Mumbai, etc. will be different 50 years from now. The present safety norms which have been adopted are insufficient to mitigate the coming situation.

Is Noah's Arc the only way to escape?
Solution 1??? Is Noah's Arc the only way to escape?
Is evolution to amphibians the answer to survival?
Solution 2??? Is evolution to amphibians the answer to survival?

The impact of climate change and global warming resulting in excessive rainfall was predicted by many scientists, with a trend towards further extremities. There will be an increase in floods due to infrequent storm activity and heavy rainfall. The sea-level rise will result in more time for the river water to reach the ocean due to decreased slopes. This will increase the level of floods in the future years to come. Unless we plan ahead, our settlements will be facing a serious crisis in the future. Many countries have started planning ahead considering the impact of the sea level rise and storm surge.

Finding the Probability of Floods in Kerala

Assuming that flooding is an event that occurs once in a hundred years, one can determine the probability of one or more occurrences of that event. Estimating the lifespan of a building as fifty years and the floods as a hundred-year event, the table provides a probability of a flood occurring during the building’s lifetime as 39%. If the useful life of the building is only thirty years, the chance of a flood occurring during its lifetime is 26%.

Flood Probability Chart  (Source: Coastal Construction Manual published by Federal Emergency Management Agency, USA)
Flood Probability Chart ( Source: Coastal Construction Manual published by FEMA, USA)

Maximum Flood Level

In many countries, when new houses are planned, the floor level is fixed at least sixty centimeters above the maximum flood level. The maximum flood level is the highest flood level during the last 100 years, which is adopted as the basis for all future buildings. We have to take optimum safety measurements to protect our buildings from future floods.

The new constructions in Kerala have to strictly follow the safe elevation level so that we are protected from the unforeseeable floods.

Safe elevation from maximum flood level in Kerala
Safe elevation from maximum flood level in Kerala

Disasters on the Rise

During disasters, the primary objective is to safeguard human lives and then their valuable belongings. For a family, their house is their biggest asset and an investment of a lifetime. Also, owning a house is the first step towards the upward mobility of a family. The figure shows that climate-related disasters have been on the increase during the last few decades. The graph is a clear indicator of the rise in water-related disasters. Many studies prove that human casualties are on the decrease, while property loss has been on the rise.

See the chart below to learn about the different natural disasters during the last three decades.

The floods of 1924 still scar the memory of many people. 2018 floods in Kerala have been further disastrous in many respects. The aim for the future shall be to take all the precautionary measures thus minimizing loss of life and property in case of a disaster of similar nature. Let’s give rebirth to a new Kerala that is built mighty enough to stand without trembling in any unusual circumstances of alike type.

Learn More: Manual for Retrofitting and Flood Resilient Design for Flood Affected Areas in Kerala

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