As Kerala continues to battle the deluge that has devastated the state and limp back to normalcy, the central government on Monday declared the floods as a “calamity of severe nature”.
Vice-President and Rajya Sabha Chairman M Venkaiah Naidu and Lok Sabha Speaker Sumitra Mahajan said that “keeping in view the intensity and magnitude of the floods in Kerala, the government of India has declared this a calamity of a severe nature”.
It is noteworthy that the Opposition leaders have been asking the government to declare the situation in Kerala a national calamity owing to the extensive damage caused by flood waters and landslides triggered by unprecedented rains since 8 August.
The Kerala government estimated that the loss to the state has been to the tune of Rs 20,000 crore. Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India (Assocham) also said that the devastating floods may caused damage worth between Rs 15,000 and 20,000 crore.
Unprecedented heavy rains triggered a deluge that has been dubbed the worst since 1924. While hundreds have been killed – the death toll stands at 370 as of now – lakhs have been rendered homeless.
According to reports, officials fear that the number of houses fully damaged may cross 75,000. It is estimated that the number of partially damaged houses may be even more. Even though the waters are receding, the officials are busy with rescue operations and are not in a position to ascertain the exact loss of property.
Assocham said that it will take months for Kerala to return to normalcy especially because the ferocious floods have decimated cash crops, impacted international trade from ports, and hindered tourism which brings a major chunk of revenue for the southern state.
Reports say that the floods have submerged 45,000 hectares of farmland, and completely destroyed 134 bridges and 98,000 km of roads. It is however possible that the damage might be more due to Kerala being a highly urbanised state.
The Indian Express reports that according to the 2011 census figures, Kerala had 2.9 times more buildings per unit land compared to the rest of India. This figure rose faster than the rest of India in the subsequent years.
All the buildings in the flood-affected districts have been reportedly damaged. Besides the houses, infrastructure such as electricity and water supply has been severely hit due to inundation and landslides at many places. Abating waters have left behind mountains of garbage on the roads, clearing which is a task that will require a very high number of manpower and machinery.
“There is no electricity or mobile connectivity. The homes are gone so we need thousands of electricians, carpenters and plumbers to rush to Kerala. The biggest challenge right now is to rebuild. We need people with technical skills to put life back on track,” Union Minister KJ Alphons said on Monday.
Bringing back Kerala to its pre-flood days will therefore be a herculean task that will take time. Assocham has predicted that the enormous loss will cause hardship to lakhs of people.
Kerala has a GDP of Rs 8 lakh crore. The state also is a recipient of one of the highest amounts of remittances from NRIs, who will most likely be a major help in overturning the economic damage.
Reports say that places such as Chengannur, Pandalam, Ranni and Thrissur – all of them severely affected by floods – earn Rs 1 lakh crore every year from remittances.
The vice-President said on Monday that under the Members of Parliament Local Area Development Scheme (MPLADS), an MP could in the event of a calamity of severe nature in any part of the country, recommend works up to a maximum of Rs 1 crore for affected districts.
Besides major donations from various state governments, Kerala has been receiving donations from people across the country.
The Chief Minister has been requesting people to help Kerala battle the unprecedented humanitarian crisis with donations to the Kerala CM Distress Relief Fund.
“At this of point of time, nothing can help as much as money,” Vijayan had said earlier last week.
Even social networking giant Facebook is donating $250,000 (nearly Rs 1.75 crore) for relief work in Kerala.
“In the last few days, Facebook along with the power of the community, has helped reach out to people through features such as Live, creating Page, joining community and raising funds,” said a Facebook spokesperson, adding: “The smallest of all things we have done is that our global community has contributed $250,000 for Goonj fund.”
As waters make their way back to the rivers and the seas, a fear of epidemic looms large. But Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan said that six health officers would be deployed in each panchayat to ensure there was no outbreak of any communicable diseases.
He had on Sunday said that the number of those displaced in the torrential rains was 7,24,649 lakh, adding that all of them were in 5,645 relief camps.
The Meteorological Department has said that rainfall activity over Kerala is likely to decrease further gradually during the next five days starting Monday, except for some isolated pockets of heavy rainfall, bringing some respite to the flood-hit state.