Saturday, August 18

Kerala's dam strange flood catastrophe

Watch carefully don't blink:

November 15, 2017, NDTV:
Transport Minister Thomas Chandy, Kerala's richest lawmaker, accused of grabbing farmland illegally, resigns. A government official had said in a report last month that agricultural land had been illegally taken over by a resort owned by the minister. ...
March 6, 2018, Deccan Chronicle

Kerala: Land grabbers on notice
The state government will soon introduce a bill in the Assembly, complete with stringent penal provisions for errant officials, to recover government lands encroached upon by big corporate houses.[...]The Land Grab Bill will essentially be a better armed version of the Land Conservancy Act of 1957. "The LC Act is the only recourse available to prevent encroachment on government land, but it did not have enough teeth to tackle the wave of encroachments, especially in the plantation and tourism sectors, the official said.
There will also be strict provisions to deal with government officials who are hand in glove with the land mafia.

[1 lakh = 100,000]

It is said that at least five lakh acres of public land is in the illegal custody of 200-odd encroachers.

The Act is also expected to free enough government land to be distributed among the homeless. It is estimated that there are around 2.70 lakh homeless in the state. ...
August 17, 2018 - TNN via Times of India

Kerala flooding: The reasons Kerala continues to sink, people and property included
Why 2018 is the worst:

> This year most parts of Kerala have received heavy rainfall from June to date.

> 58 dams managed by KSEB and 22 managed by the water resources department are at full capacity.
> Gates of all these dams have been opened to discharge excess water.
> Idukki Dam, which is Asia's largest arch dam, has been releasing water at the rate of 10-15 lakh litres per second in the last three days.
> Although Kerala received excess rainfall in 2013, life was not threatened because dams were not full at that time of year.  
> Kerala state is an exception in India in that it does not have a single battalion of the State Disaster Response Force, which is mandatory as per the rules to tackle natural calamities.
> A review by disaster authorities under MHA found fault with the state for not gradually releasing water from about 30 dams in anticipation of the rains.  
August 12, 2018, Accuweather  

Historic number of dams opened as deadly monsoon rain strikes southwestern India
Rising water levels have pushed many dams to near capacity, according to Hindustan Times. As a result, shutters of at least 24 reservoirs in Kerala have been opened to release the excess water. Never before in the history of the Indian state have so many dams been open, the Times of India reported.
All five shutters of the Idukki reservoir’s Cheruthoni Dam were opened for the first time in 40 years on Friday.
Dams downstream will have to be opened to ease the pressure of the increased water flow coming from the Cheruthoni Dam. Families living in low-lying areas along the Periyar River, which flows away from the dam, have been evacuated. ...
August 17, 2018, CBC Radio (Canada):

'No land to be found' as India's Kerala state faces worst flooding in a century
... Nancy Prabhakar, who works for Kerala state's Red Cross, spoke to As It Happens guest host Matt Galloway from Thiruvananthapuram. Here is part of their conversation.

Describe what it's looked like in Kerala over the past few days.
The complete place, almost 80 percentage of the place in the Kerala state, is flooded with water. And the water is up to the second-floor level. It is completely full of water. There is no land to be found.
Tell me more about where people are seeking refuge.
We are finding some places where the water level is not bad. We are finding relief camps there and we are accommodating people there.
What about your house? What is the state of your home?
I am kind of in a protected area, so I am fine. I'm safe.
There are different reports about how many people have died because of these floods. How difficult is it to find out how many people have died because of this flooding?
It's not confirmed because the people who are in the [flood], they were in their homes, and they were in an unexpected flood. They were not [able] to escape.
So the latest report is that dead bodies were floating within the homes. 
Only after the water level comes down, really, can we finally tell how many people died.
If all the roads are washed out, how are rescue officials getting to those who need help?
Through helicopter — airlift. Now the navy, army is in the field and they are doing their rescue operation. 
They are taking these people from the flooded area and they are removing people to the relief camps.
 I had read that more than 223,000 people are in these relief camps, that they've been displaced from their homes. How are people getting food and water? Those 223,000 people, how are they getting supplies so that they can stay alive?

We, the Red Cross, its staff, as an organization are providing them food and necessary materials they require to live.

But it must be incredibly difficult to get that to the relief camps if all of the roads are washed out?

Yes, now we are planning to have a helicopter drop in the relief camps, because in today's scenario, the roads ... are impossible, and the rail transport has also stopped. 
This is an area that's very popular with tourists, but it also an area where rubber is grown, where coffee and tea and spices are grown. What concerns are there about long-term damage to those industries?
I don't know. I don't know about that because it's completely lost.
It's completely lost?
Yes, yes. Everything is underwater. Everything.

If you ask at this point if I think corrupt officials would actually be willing to see mass drownings in order to grab land for agribusiness or dam-builders -- go back to this statement in the Accuweather report on August 12: 

"Never before in the history of the Indian state [Kerala] have so many dams been open, the Times of India reported."

So at least as early as August 12, an unprecedented number of dams among Kerala's 80 officially managed dams/reservoirs had been opened to prevent collapses of the structures and severe flooding. What the people in charge could not know at that early date was that the 2018 monsoon in Kerala turned out to be very strange. From the Times of India report I quoted:
The unusually short break between rains has exacerbated the problem. [In earlier monsoons] the spells of heavy rain were interspersed with 4 or more dry days. This time, the breaks have not exceeded 2-3 days, causing the rainwater to accumulate.
So if there were some corrupt officials who assumed that dragging their feet would only result in enough flooding to drive smallest-scale farmers to sell their land, they miscalculated. However, it is this passage in the Times of India report that is damning, if you'll pardon the expression:
A review by disaster authorities under MHA found fault with the state for not gradually releasing water from about 30 dams in anticipation of the rains.
There is more, much more, to the story of how Kerala became ground zero for a flood catastrophe touched off by extraordinarily strong monsoon rains. Some of the story goes all the way back to land allocation disputes that the vacating British occupiers left the Indians to sort out, which the land grab issue in Kerala indicates they're still doing.

There are also the many issues connected with dam building in India; see this report at India Water Portal for an overview of the most pressing ones. All the issues under discussion could be applied as well to many other nations. What the report does not touch on is the situation in poor countries, such as Myanmar, which have rivers that foreign governments are damming to use for hydropower in their own countries. So. You've heard of foreign land grabs? These are river grabs.

If you say well, you can't stop progress no matter how ruthless some of it -- is this your idea of progress?

As the summer temperature soars amid power outages, it is hard to believe that India actually has surplus [hydropower] but no buyers. But in April, power minister Piyush Goyal informed Parliament that states are not buying power.
That turn of events led an Indian writing for LiveMint to ask in 2015, How many dams does India need? and to observe there was no talk or study done about the question. Studies might have been done since but I think the best answer in an era ruled by human locusts is, 'Whatever number of dams the traffic will bear and then some.'


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