Flaws in Kerala's disaster management back in focus

Gadgil recommendations, flaws in disaster management back in focus as Kerala weathers landslides

According to experts, the absence of a micro-level hazard map was the basic lacuna in the state's management

Serious flaws with the state's disaster management plan were exposed as it took up to 12 hours for the rescue team to reach the landslide hot spots. Credit: PTI Photo

Need to implement the Madhav Gadgil committee report on protecting the Western Ghats and flaws in Kerala's disaster management plans have once again become a hot topic of discussion as major landslides wreck the state for the fourth year in a row.

Gadgil told a section of the media that the government had failed in protecting the Western Ghats by succumbing to vested interests and was now paying the price for it.

The Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel headed by Gadgil had prescribed stringent restrictions in activities at the ecologically fragile areas in 2011. After his report was diluted by the government, Gadgil had alerted in 2013 that Kerala would soon witness disasters owing to the massive exploitation of the Ghats.

S Sreekumar, former member of the Kerala State Environment Impact Assessment Authority, told DH that as per the available official data, the number of lives lost in landslides in Kerala till 2018 was 293, and from 2018 to 2021, 170 landslide-related deaths were reported in the state so far. Hundreds of landslides occurred in the state over the last few years but only those which cost human lives were getting projected.

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According to environmentalist K Sahadevan, 67 per cent of the landslides in the state were caused by changes in land use patterns.

Serious flaws with the state's disaster management plan were exposed as it took up to 12 hours for the rescue team to reach the landslide hot spots.

According to experts, the absence of a micro-level hazard map was the basic lacuna. The state was still depending on an over ten-year-old hazard zone map prepared by the National Centre for Earth Science Studies.

Even the Koottickal village in Kottayam and Kokkayar in Idukki, where the recent landslides occurred, were marked as high hazard zones for landslides. Only if micro-level hazard zone identification and mapping were done, people from landslide-prone areas could be shifted.

K G Thara, former head of Kerala Disaster Management Centre, said that lack of coordination at the grass-root level was one reason for the delay in rescue operations. Proper auditing of the disaster management systems from top to bottom had to be done regularly. The focus should be on mitigation and preparedness, she said.

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