A Step at a Time: How Kerala Can Start Picking up the Pieces

Officials at NDMA say that the state, on its road to recovery, will go forth with rescue, recoup and rehabilitation.

6 min read
Officials at NDMA say that the state – on its road to recovery – will now move forth with rescue, recoup and rehabilitation.

After facing excess rainfall and floods of a magnitude that it has seen only once in a century and suffering a loss estimated to be close to Rs 20,000 crore, Kerala is now on its road to recovery.

So how can Kerala inch closer to rebuilding itself and what can one do? The chief minister has sounded a call for a “New Kerala”, affirming that his aim is not merely bringing Kerala back to what it was before the floods, but to now create a revamped state.

The state, currently in a dilapidated condition, is reeling under damage to property worth Rs 19,000 crore, death of people, livestock and heavy loss to agriculture, especially in Kuttanad, Alappuzha, also known as ‘Kerala’s Rice Bowl’.

The 3R Approach

Officials at National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) overlooking rescue operations in Kerala say that the state – on its road to recovery – will now move forth with 3R approach: Rescue, Recoup and Rehabilitation.

Talking to The Quint, NDMA’s Additional Chief Secretary in Kerala, Rajeev Sadanandan, said that while the first stage of rescuing people is nearly over, the authorities are expected to carry out ‘recoup’ in full swing.

The NDMA will launch recoup mode by helping people reclaim their houses, disposing waste, carcasses, cleaning houses, using bleaching powder and ensuring chlorination of water in another week as a primary measure.

Kerala, Sadanandan said, will be in recoup mode for roughly a month, after which the rehabilitation will be carried out in full swing. The state has been focussing on rehabilitation of people from relief camps to their homes alongside, he said. “We will train people to use bleaching powder in their homes,” he told The Quint.

All you need to know before returning to a flood-hit home.
All you need to know before returning to a flood-hit home.
Source: United Nations Environment Programme/ Muralee Thummarakudy

The state is also bringing a huge relief to school-going students by allowing the use of photocopied documents, instead of original ones which may have been lost or gotten damaged in the floods.

“We will provide leeway to students who have lost important documents and marksheets due to floods. For any document work, a photocopy of mark-sheets will suffice. They don’t necessarily have to provide original documents,” he told The Quint.


Diseases, A Challenge

The World Health Organisation recognises a potential increase in the transmission of water-borne and vector-borne communicable diseases such as typhoid fever, cholera, leptospirosis, malaria, dengue and dengue haemorrhagic fever and yellow fever, due to the floods.

According to the officials deployed by state’s health department, Kerala is addressing the health concerns in a designed plan of action where it will monitor a wide range of medical complaints arising this month.

To start off keeping the floods in mind, the camps will focus on water-borne diseases and watch out for cases of diarrhea, cholera, malaria and several such cases. But to avoid any life-threatening disease outbreak, in the second week, doctors in the medical camps will also take fever cases to map the pattern.
V Jithesh, nodal officer, Department of Health, Wayanad

The first cases of illness and diseases to surface in a flood ravaged territory are mainly water-borne diseases. The state’s health department has already started the hustle, so that they’d be better equipped to deal with epidemics which could break-out after the floods.

The relief camps in Wayanad – one of the state’s ten district to receive excess rainfall – have started receiving cases along the same lines, with isolated cases of food poisoning.

“There’s also a chance that once people start going back to their homes, due to water being left behind because of flooding in their houses, they are vulnerable to catching a disease or fever,” Jithesh explains.

How can people keep themselves safe after the floods.
How can people keep themselves safe after the floods.
Source: United Nations Environment Programme/ Muralee Thummarakudy
To ensure one is moving back in her house without risking her and her family’s life, Jithesh says, it is pertinent for them to get a clearance from two witnesses – one for house’s safety and another for health safety wherein the clearance for house’s stability should be carried out by a local engineer.

“At this stage, we are also considering snake bites as one of our biggest threats. It can pose a challenge. We have multipurpose experts in relief camps. We have set up additional consultation centres,” NDMA’s Sadanandan said. He also added that the authorities are watching out carefully for non-communicable diseases as they face high chances of it magnifying in Kerala.


Kerala is also going to proceed by addressing health in two ways, firstly by keeping a tab on prevention of communicable diseases and secondly by checking the nutritional health levels of those affected by floods, especially tribal communities.

How Kerala Can Ensure Safe Drinking Water

RK Radhakrishnan, a senior journalist in Chennai, explains that there is a need for immense focus on drinking safe potable water as fear of cholera and diarrhea looms large.

“Whether the water you are drinking is pure or contaminated will be a big issue. To avoid any kind of water-contaminated disease, families should drink water that is boiled to the point of rolling, when the bubbles start rolling on the top of water,” Radhakrishnan told The Quint.

“The state administration will have to take up indiscriminate water chlorification across Kerala and once people start leaving rescue camps to their homes,” Radhakrishnan says. “People should start by assessing mentally, ‘How safe could be my house’ since several did not expect flooding of this level. The water has entered people’s house in Kerala and has diminished its structural stability,” he adds.

Tackling Waste

Muralee Thummarakudy, chief of disaster risk reduction at the United Nations Environment Programme, explains that after addressing safety concerns arising out of disaster, the second most important thing during and after a disaster is waste management, as floods generate a huge amount of solid waste.

Commonly there are two types of solid waste. These include:

  1. Useful things before disaster that turn to waste, such as household items. Then there are trees destroyed by floods, buildings that have collapsed, slush and mud all over the place, decaying trees – all of which constitute newly generated waste during a disaster.
  2. Waste generated in relief camps such as toilet waste, food waste, plastic bottles, food packages.

Thummarakudy says that in many cases, the waste disposal systems in a city is completely wrecked by the disaster and the situation will be such that there will be thousand times more waste to be disposed of.

Thummarakudy recommends some of the best practices for Kerala’s state authorities that are followed for disaster waste management in international scenarios:

  1. Assess the waste management capability in each municipality and panchayat. How many people work there? What is their technical know-how?
  2. Estimate the different kinds of waste, as well as the amount of each type of waste that is likely to be generated in each panchayat and municipality. Both these activities should be undertaken within 24 hours of the water receding.
  3. Prepare a list of the types of waste that need to be handled. Typically, the following types of waste are generated during floods: debris, wooden materials, ruined furniture, tables, chairs, doors, windows, beds and sofas that have become unusable, plastic materials, clothes, paper, spoilt food, chemicals in laboratories, fertilisers, insecticides, chemicals from factories and other places, animal carcass among several other waste.

“However, people in Kerala can help by using fewer things at home and encouraging recycling, reuse and segregating waste, instead of dumping all of it together.”

To solve Kerala’s crisis, Thummarakudy adds, the government should also have a clear system to collect such segregated waste. This should be implemented within a week.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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