Kerala Floods, Development And Fossil Fuels

kerala flood

In the light of the devastating floods of 2018 many people are coming forward with suggestions for the future of Kerala’s development. I too came up with a ten point agenda for Kerala.

1. All Dams in the Western Ghats, including Mullaperiyar Dam should be decommissioned

2. Determine the Flood Zone of the Rivers

3. All homes created in the Flood Zone should be abandoned and the residents should be rehabilitated

4. Give up all the constructions made in the river basins, erstwhile paddy fields, and wetlands (including Ernakulam city, Kuttanad area) and give them back to nature

5. Give back the Western Ghats fully to nature and rehabilitate all those who migrated to that area

6. All of the monoculture plantations in the western ghats including tea, coffee, cardamom estates should be vacated and allow nature to regenerate itself.

7. The newly formed forest area in the Western Ghats should be given back to Adivasis under forest rights act.

8. Do not consider the 2018 floods as another weather event but consider it as an extreme weather event caused by climate change due to global warming. Please understand that it is not just a once in a century weather event but can repeat itself in 5-10 year periods as predicted by IPCC.

9. A study centre equipped with all facilities should be set up in Kerala to study the consequences of climate change.

10. Cancellation of all projects affecting coastal areas. Cancel the Vizhinjam project.

I know many of the suggestions given here are impractical. But it is the only way forward for Kerala to rejuvenate itself. May be we would have to find a midway path!

I was born in 1970 in Idukki district of Kerala, in the Western Ghats region. In those days, even in the hilly districts there used to be lots of paddy fields. Now if you go to Idukki you will see very few paddy fields. Same was the case in most part of Kerala. Kerala was a land of paddy fields and coconuts. How it changed in the last five decades is beyond imagination. I also visited Kodagu (Coorg) district in Karnataka in the late 1990s. When I visited the place last year, my heart was broken. Most of the paddy fields are gone. In the Idukki district where I grew up, lots and lots of roads were built where there should have been none. I used to tell my friends that these roads are the veins through which fossil fuels flow through the western ghats. In the devastating landslides after the incessant rains most of the roads are partially or fully damaged.

In Kerala, most of the paddy fields and wet lands gave to new constructions. In the place of paddy fields and wet lands new fancy houses and gated communities sprouted up. Quarrying and sandmining destroyed the ecosystem. Whole of Kerala became a real estater’s paradise. Sadly many of the newly built houses and apartments are lying vacant as its owners are expatriates. For them it was just an investment. Meanwhile millions of Keralites, especially Dalits and Adivasis are homeless or even landless.

Fact of the matter is that Kerala is a very ecologically sensitive area. The ENTIRE KERALA (emphasis added). It is a very small area just 580 km long with an area of just 38,863 sq. km .Very few places are actually habitable. How this 3.5 crore people (35 million) come to habit a small ecologically fragile area is due to human endeavour aided by the fossil fuels. Fossil fuels also caused the environmental degradation of Kerala beyond repair. How to salvage the lives of this 3.5 crore people in the face of calamitous climate change is a big question. Frankly, I have no answer to that. If this 3.5 crore people survive till the end of this century, it should be a great miracle.

A drought on the scale of the recent deluge is a possibility for Kerala. If that happens that would be devastating for Kerala. The state with its rapacious capitalist development model has destroyed most of its water sheds, its water bodies. If a drought hits Kerala, salt water from the sea would rush up the river making most of the people of Kerala without drinking water.

It’s not just the duty of the Kerala government alone to prevent this calamity, but there should be global solidarity action from global humanity. What Kerala government can do is to make disaster preaparedness. That too is beyond their capacity. You can’t solve this problem with some eye wash solutions like implementing Gadgil Commission Report. It needs a serious wholistic approach involving global community. That’s what has been doing for years now.

Fossil fuel economy, ramped up by the Gulf boom of the 80s ecologically destroyed much of Kerala. And in the last floods nature showed that it can take back what man took back from her. It’s a warning for the future. There are no short cuts to the environmental crisis Kerala is facing. Many of them are beyond repair.

The flood was a timely warning from nature to Keralites to treat her with reverence. Bolivia passed a law called “Law of the Rights of Mother Earth”. Now is the right time for Keralites to pass a similar law for the rights of Mother earth.

Binu Mathew is the editor of


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