Kerala puts environment on top of its agenda

An aerial view of flooded areas of Kerala. (Coast Guard Handout via PTI)

Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan said on Thursday that the state’s efforts to rebuild and reconstruct after the devastating floods and landslides also had to address environmental concerns.

He was speaking at a special session of the Legislative Assembly convened to discuss flooding-related losses and steps to rebuild the state.

“It’s important to decide on the model of rebuilding we want to adopt. This disaster has highlighted some environment-related issues. We need to decide if rehabilitation is feasible in areas vulnerable to flooding and landslides,” the chief minister said while moving the motion for the discussion.

Roads and bridges have been damaged extensively and infrastructure in remote areas is badly hit. Procurement of raw materials for reconstructing this infrastructure will be a major challenge for the state, he said. Vijayan said losses suffered by Kerala were likely to exceed the size of the state’s annual plan.

The chief minister said though the state had prepared for potential damages set off by the southwest monsoon, the impact of rainfall – three times more than what was forecast – was too big. Between August 9 and 15, the state received 352.2 mm rainfall, as against the expected 98.5 mm. Rivers were in spate and all the 82 dams in the state touched full storage level. The state recorded crop loss in 57,000 hectares of land. Lakhs of houses were flooded and thousands submerged, altering life and economy of the affected areas.

483 deaths

Since the onset of the southwest monsoon on May 29, 483 people have died in the state, 140 hospitalised and 14 are missing. On Thursday, 59,296 people were living in 305 relief camps. Efforts to build houses habitable and to restore power lines and drinking water supplies are progressing.

The Centre has, so far, announced Rs 600 crore in aid. Vijayan said the state expected more relief after the next visit by a central team to the flood-hit regions. The Chief Minister’s Distress Relief Fund has received, till Wednesday, Rs 730 crore in contributions.

The chief minister repeatedly lauded the spirit with which the people lined up with the armed forces and the fishermen in what has been an unprecedented rescue operation and made substantial financial contributions, many of them beyond their resources, to help rehabilitation and rebuilding efforts.

“We have survived (cyclone) Ockhi and Nipah (virus outbreak); we’ll be able to survive this too. If we stand united, we can take Kerala to greater glory. We are not a people doomed by disasters, we should be survivors,” Vijayan added.

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Kerala puts environment on top of its agenda

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