Kerala has a special place on the map of India. This south-western state faces the first flush of the annual monsoon rains, whose arrival cheers farmers and cools the country’s landmass after the summer heat. This year, it arrived at least a week late—the rains usually hit the Kerala coast on 1 June—and progressed erratically over the rest of India. After about a 10-day lull in the state, the monsoon strengthened early last week, bringing a heavy downpour. In an unnerving reminder of last year’s devastating floods, Kerala’s worst in about 100 years, incessant precipitation has deluged many districts, causing havoc, snapping communication lines and claiming several lives. It is, however, not the only state with dangerously rising water levels. Rains have battered Karnataka and Maharashtra, too, leaving many dead and several missing. On Friday, the India Meteorological Department predicted heavy to extremely heavy rainfall along the western coast over the weekend. Meanwhile, dramatic visuals from Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Gujarat have revealed widespread distress. Parts of Bihar and Assam are also reeling under torrential rainfall, with a large number of people left battling grim circumstances.
Fearing a rerun of last year’s calamity, amid fresh flooding and forecasts of more rains, the Kerala government shut schools on Friday as a preventive measure. Cochin International Airport suspended operations till Sunday afternoon as floodwaters inundated its apron area, with the district’s naval air base allowing civilian flights. More than half of the state’s 44 rivers are in spate and many of its reservoirs swollen. A dozen teams of the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) have been deployed for rescue missions, even as the authorities look to the Indian Air Force for rescue and relief sorties. In Karnataka, educational institutions, markets and offices were shut, and thousands stranded as rains damaged roads and railway lines. NDRF teams and Indian Army personnel are working in tandem in Belagavi, Raichur and Bagalkot districts to whisk people to safety. Authorities have evacuated more than 200,000 people to safer places as heavy rains lashed Maharashtra’s Sangli, Pune, Kolhapur, Solapur and Satara districts. India’s commercial capital Mumbai, which relies on its neighbouring districts for fruit, vegetables and milk supplies, is experiencing a shortage of these staple food items. It’s no wonder then that prices have shot up, with coriander selling for ₹400 a bunch.
Weather patterns are becoming increasingly unpredictable with every passing year, causing episodes of extreme heat, cold and flooding. This points to the effects of climate change caused by years of carbon emissions and the wanton exploitation of natural resources. Construction booms of the past few decades have taken a toll on wetlands and river valleys across states. Excessive use of concrete and the illegal encroachment of river banks and lakes have constricted natural drainage systems. All this must stop forthwith. Given the perils upon us, India has little option but to pay special attention to its institutional capacity for disaster mitigation and relief, the nodal agencies for which need to be kept well-funded. How well a country mobilizes resources to tackle disasters, natural or otherwise, is a sign of how advanced it really is. India has made progress, but our efforts need to be stepped up.