Disasters affect people. Bridges can be rebuilt, houses can be acquired again, fields will be ready for harvesting soon enough, roads will be repaired, rivers recede, mountains ready themselves for new paths, and even the land strives to even all the upheavals it has experienced, but in the memory of people a disaster remains for a long time, sometimes even generations. The flash floods of 2013 in Uttarakhand, the devastating flood of 2017 in Gujarat, the 2017 floods in Bihar and Assam, and then those that happened in 2014 in Jammu and Kashmir are all brimming with statistics of losses that are far lesser than the damage they did to people. Earthquakes, landslides, tsunamis, aircraft crashes, snow storms, road pile-ups, droughts, famines, and forest fires are just some of the ways that disasters manifest themselves. If ever anyone thought we have had enough, the Kerala floods appeared and told us, ‘There will always be more.’

Over 11,000 kms of roads were rendered unusable, 237 bridges destroyed, more than 7000 houses damaged, and every conceivable form of infrastructure was devastated within a fortnight in Kerala. Over 445 people died, all 14 districts of the state were under red alert and the ‘Indian government had declared it (the Kerala floods) a Level 3 Calamity or ‘Calamity of a severe nature’.’ The government called it ‘the worst flood in Kerala after Great flood of 99 that happened in 1924.’ (Source: Wikipedia) All that remains after this in Kerala is the will of the people there and elsewhere.

This satellite image shows the extent of flood waters after torrential rains hit Kerala in August_NASA Earth ObservatoryLauren Dauphin

This satellite image shows the extent of flood waters after torrential rains hit Kerala in August_NASA Earth Observatory Lauren Dauphin

The destruction in Kerala isn’t just about roads, bridges, and homes. One report in The Indian Express of 28 August points out that ‘Chendamangalam, 36 km from Kochi, now faces the possibility of losing its centuries old tradition of handloom textiles’. A report in The Hindu of 22 August talks about ‘the damage and risks to the rich tangible, intangible, movable and immovable heritage that has been adversely affected by these floods, including monuments, historic buildings, museum collections and artefacts of significance to the community’. Another report mentions how this devastation has created obstacles for the various art-forms including the Koodiyattam because stages, masks, drums, musical instruments, and other accessories too have been damaged. Beautiful historical buildings have suffered at the hands of this flood. Water damage restoration can play a crucial role in preserving and revitalizing the rich heritage affected by these floods, as noted by Robinson Restoration.

Kerala inspires

If devastation brings in chaos, it is people who reorder moments. I have read about incidents about this disaster in news reports and found small stories that restores my faith in human endurance and the ability to move out of our comfort zones to offer assistance to anyone without letting caste, religion, education, status, and political leanings to interfere. All government agencies, including the army, air force, and the navy were out there in large numbers busy evacuating people from risk-prone areas. Corporates pitched in, other states and other countries offered aid, artists, photographers, writers, poets, and even the common man offered help in myriad ways. As Conrad Sangma, Chief Minister of Meghalaya puts it: ‘It’s the responsibility of every citizen to pitch in. This is the time when we can do all that’s possible. No help is small.’ Reports talk about over 5645 relief camps for the flood affected and there are more than 1.2 million there. India came together during this moment of need and showed the world that unity in diversity isn’t about wild and whirling words for us.

Does the how and why matter?

Yes, we also need to understand why it all happened. Some talked about the sluice gates not being opened despite warnings and that it was this delay that caused more damage than anything else. Even the Government of Kerala informed the Supreme Court that the devastation could have been minimal had the Mullaperiyar dam in Tamil Nadu not opted to suddenly release water. There are many other instances where the administrators and the politicians have been fighting about trying to shift the blame from one agency to another.

Does this really matter? No. What matters at this stage is to move ahead with rehabilitation of people and to ensure that that repair work is thorough and complete. This is to bring the entire state into a functional stage… after all, there is nothing better for the people than to be ready to welcome the entire world back to their state as this is what is going to bring in the much needed fiscal respite.

Talking of finances, one has been reading so much about aid from the UAE being refused by the Centre because it has political differences with the powers in the state. There have been denials and people who matter has said that aid compromises India’s independence in decision-making and that this would be a bad reflection on a nation that is ‘purportedly becoming a large economic power today, growing at a blistering pace and can afford to reject foreign aid …’ Thomas Matthew in an article in TOI has gone further to add that these conclusions were erroneous as ‘most advanced nations do not let their economic power hinder the acceptance of humanitarian aid in calamities and India should behave no differently.’

Well, I guess it is far better to keep politics out of everything that aims to support people and is aimed at rebuilding after disaster has struck.

How can the common man help?

We are lucky that we have numbers with us so far as population is concerned. Even a small contribution to any of the hundreds of funds being collected is what all of us must do. The rehabilitation process needs authors to decide to pledge their royalties for the state, artists and photographers can organize exhibitions where the sales proceeds go towards this effort, lit fests planned for this year must donate generously, and even movies premiered in these months can surely send a part of their earnings to the state. These are just a few suggestions and will probably spawn a lot of other ideas, for instance, bloggers can write about what happened there and spread awareness of the facts because that is the only way untruths and rumours will not get an upper hand through social media mavericks. Indiblogger has already taken a lead by inspiring bloggers to write about the Kerala devastation and must be applauded for this.

What needs to be understood is that once the initial relief and evacuation phase is over, it is the restoration and recovery phase that begins and this phase goes on for years. As Sylvia Mathews Burwell writes: ‘While natural disasters capture headlines and national attention short-term, the work of recovery and rebuilding is long-term.’

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A few more ways in which contributions can be made:

1. Chief Minister’s relief fund This account is on PayTM.

2. Chief Minister’s relief fund This account is for NEFT and Debit/Credit cards.

3. Goonj

4. Portals like BigBasket, Grofers, Amazon, EBay and others can be explored to see if direct orders can be supplied to camps in kerala where such supplies could be welcome.

5. Medicines are needed there and one can explore the possibility of send some through agencies that are collecting them.

6. Oxfam India has set up a relief fund where contributions can be made.

7. HelpAge India is accepting funds.

8. Milaap has set-up a relief fund where contributions can be made.

9. Habitat for Humanity Rapid Response, and Indo Global Social Service Society, fundraising drives are available.

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We love Kerala

We love Kerala

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Arvind Passey
30 August 2018