ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Comparing Floods in Kerala and the Himalaya

There are important similarities and differences between the Kerala floods in 2018 and 2019 and the Himalayan floods of Uttarakhand and Kashmir in 2013 and 2014, respectively. Most importantly, floods in Kerala are likely to affect the local ecology in some parts of the Western Ghats, whereas floods in the Himalayan regions will affect North India as a whole. However, both the regions have a fragile ecology that is threatened by ecological destruction and industrial development. Thus, the Central Water Commission and other government agencies should take a holistic view towards addressing floods and dam management in these regions.

This article is an edited version of a talk at the National Seminar on Common Property and Citizens Rights: Issues of Reconstruction of Kerala, organised by the C Achutha Menon Foundation, during 25 and 26 October 2018, at Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala. The author would like to thank Himanshu Thakkar for his comments and suggestions on the first draft.

Floods have been a part of the natural system of the earth from the earliest times, along with earthquakes, landslides, avalanches, hurricanes and tsunamis. However, since the introduction of agriculture and urbanisation, human activity has been directly contributing towards floods. Floods can change the geomorphology of a region and change the landscape drastically. Their occurrence and intensity depends on natural hydrological systems and rainfall (monsoons in the context of the Indian subcontinent, and double monsoons with regard to Kerala), its intensity as well as occurrences like cloudbursts, the state of groundwater, the condition of catchment areas, slopes and vegetation, and the seismicity of the region. Man-made structures such as dams and barrages, hydropower projects, unsustainable mining, deforestation, catchment degradation and encroachments in the riverbeds and climate change have also contributed to the cause and nature of floods.

Humans have been keen observers of river behaviour, change in their volume or colour. The occurrences of floods cautioned human beings from settling in floodplains or river courses. Small floods can create plain areas by bringing fertile soil from further upstream. Many a time, this has led to the creation of “land benches” along rivers, which were later found suitable for human settlement and agriculture. In the context of the Himalaya, communities have had an understanding of the behaviour of glaciers or events like landslides, glacial lake bursts or avalanches. However, humans are also great encroachers, with a tendency to disobey the very rules that they had practised for long. At that point, we need appropriate implementing and regulating agencies (social, political and administrative), which can follow the accepted appropriate traditional ways and enforce laws governing land and water resources of the country to reduce the consequences of a calamity.

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Updated On : 10th Feb, 2021
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