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The report on Kerala floods exposes governance deficiencies and implementation flaws
A 40-page-long report on the August 2018 floods that affected several districts of Kerala was tabled on Friday, October 26, by eminent persons, academicians and experts in areas of climate studies and disaster management at the Constitution Club of India in New Delhi.

Investigated by a distinguished team comprising of Professor Amita Singh, Dr Sunita Reddy, Dr Manika Kamthan and Ms Gaurika Chugh, the report has been published by the Special Centre for Disaster Research (SCDR), Jawaharlal Nehru University with research collaboration from National Institute of Disaster Management (NIDM), Government of India.

The "2018 Kerala Floods: Report on Governance and Legal Compliance" was officially released and a discussion held on "2018 Kerala Floods: Governance and Legal Compliance" in which people associated with preparation and publication of the report besides experts from institutions working, teaching, training in and/or looking after flood, disaster and related issues shared their views.

The centre of absorbing attention was the views of persons who tirelessly worked to rescue the affected people, provide them with timely relief and then worked and are, still working to ensure that they got the support and money pledged by individuals and organizations from within and outside Kerala. However, to astonishment of participants that objective has not been achieved as there exists serious problems of corruption, lack of preparedness and implementation mechanism, intransigence of administrative authorities, non-existence of early warning systems (EWS), lack of compliance and coordination on the part of authorities besides land encroachment and other illegal activities.

Agriculture economist Prof VK Malhotra said, "'Governance is a major issue' and it's more about 'implementation'." He said that the floods could have been predicted earlier, indicating that the loss, if not avoided, could at least have been lessened.

Prof RB Singh, retired Professor of Geography, University of Delhi, laid down some framework for understanding and countering disasters like the Kerala floods and described the report as "appreciable". He suggested that there should be a science-social science policy-interface to address climate change hazards and disaster threats. Prof Singh, Vice-President of International Geographical Union, also asked to work out modalities for community usable early warning system and for collecting and using of sensibility data like data on health and food for mitigating and preventing their impact during disaster occurring.

J Nandakumar, a key coordinator for Seva Bharati relief operations in Kerala said that the floods happened without any proper warning to the poor people living there. He called it a 'problem of human management' stating that the floods could have been prevented, managed. He alleged that the actual relief work has not yet been started and many affected people are still living in relief camps. The rice given to Kerala has not been properly distributed, he said. He also spoke about looking at the ethics of working and, raised alarming questions like "Why people are leaving Kerala?" and questions pertaining to Kerala purchasing flowers from Tamil Nadu and rice from Andhra Pradesh stating that there was "politicization at the core" and "over-politicization" that was "destroying the state".

Nisha Jose, a relief team coordinator in Kerala, shared her experiences of working during the flood and the risks it involved. She said it was mostly the youngsters who rushed to people's rescue. The people of Technopark contributed a lot. Help did come from outside too, but "initially, it was the people of Kerala who helped a lot", she said. Despite serious problems a good thing about it was that there were "no cases of sexual harassment", Jose added.

Dr Muzaffar Ahmad who has worked with NIDM for five years maintained that "not much was learnt from the 2014 Kashmir floods" and the guidelines were not implemented. He pointed out that knowledge of what happened due to floods in Chennai and elsewhere in the country was not utilized, adding that "Traditional knowledge is required not just for academic purposes but also for administrative objectives".

Sabu Krishnan Nair, an environmentalist and community worker in Pathanamthitta, Thiruvananthapuram, lashed out at media's skewed and insensible reporting.  He said that two of their relief associates had died during the floods but there was no report of it published in newspapers.

Kottayam-based environmentalist Robin Roy called the August flood "flood of the century" and informed about the tremendous work done by the fishermen. He said as road transportation was destroyed, other forms of transportation were laid in which boats brought in and used by the fishermen were of great help in both rescue and relief of the affected people.

Roy said that the most difficult thing after the flood was 'cleaning'. He then outlined what needs to be done on priority. These, among other things, include timely removal of the duckweeds from the water bases, efficient disaster management, medical assistance, proper assessment of the losses, etc.

Proceedings of the programme were conducted by Prof Inder Mohan Kapahy. Col. Sanjay Srivastava, members of SCDR, some senior faculties of Lady Shriram College and Kamla Nehru College of the University of Delhi and other institutions, media persons and representatives of civil society bodies were present.

(The author is a PhD scholar at Jamia Millia Islamia)

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