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Kerala Floods

August 18, 2018

By Paul Homewood

 

The BBC has news of the terrible floods in India:

 

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At least 324 people have been killed in flooding in the southern Indian state of Kerala in what local officials say is the worst flooding in 100 years.

India’s monsoon season started in June, but the death toll in Kerala has soared in the past 24 hours.

Rescuers are battling torrential rains to save residents, with more than 200,000 people left homeless in camps.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has arrived in the state to see the devastation for himself……

The region’s chief minister, Pinarayi Vijayan, has described the flooding as the worst the state has seen in a century.

"We’re witnessing something that has never happened before in the history of Kerala," he told reporters……

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-india-45216671

   

 

Rather than blaming climate change, the BBC actually has a rare moment of honesty:

Environmental scientists are also blaming deforestation, especially the failure to protect ecologically fragile mountain ranges in the area, local media report.

Mr Vijayan, the region’s chief minister, has said the situation in Kerala has been made worse by neighbouring governments.

Earlier this week, he and his counterpart in Tamil Nadu entered a public spat over the release of water from a dam.

Kerala has 41 rivers flowing into the Arabian Sea, and 80 of its dams are now said to be open after being overwhelmed.

 

The Hindu provides a much more detailed assessment:

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With the monsoon fury showing little sign of abating, S. Anandan and M.P. Praveen report on how Kerala is coping with an extraordinary natural disaster made worse by a fragile flood management system ….

The Southwest monsoon, which has pounded Kerala with 29.5% excess showers as of August 15, came in spurts, and the dams, which were thought to be adequate as flood hazard management instruments, stored the water. “But there was something unusual about the showers this time. We recorded an all-time high inflow of water into the reservoir lake and also the highest daily rainfall in its catchment area. The phenomenon is cyclical and reminiscent of the great flood of Malayalam Era 1099 (1924),” according to an official of the Kerala State Electricity Board (KSEB), which operates the reservoir. Back then, the showers had lasted over three weeks and while official figures are unavailable, over 1,000 people are said to have perished.

James Wilson, Kerala’s special officer for Interstate Water, contends that the situation now is a repeat of the 1961 floods, the second biggest to hit the State in a century. Had it not been for the ongoing devastating spell of rains that have forced the opening of 36 dams (13 of them on the Periyar) and the evacuation of over 1.5 lakh people as of August 15, it would have been manageable.

It was the flood-prone, low-lying Kuttanad in central Kerala that was the first to bear the brunt — it became inundated in early July. Landslips had already begun to scar the hilly areas, especially in Kozhikode and Idukki. The Idukki and the Idamalayar dams were barely at 50% of their storage capacities in mid-July. But within a fortnight, they were filled to the brim, triggering a debate on whether the KSEB was waiting to monetise the monsoon bounty. The rumour was that the KSEB was reluctant to release water as more power generation meant more money. But as the shutters of the dams were opened one after the other and increased outflow, the situation soon turned grim, leading to a red alert across the State.

https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/kerala/trial-by-water/article24719470.ece?utm_source=email&utm_medium=Email&utm_campaign=Newsletter

 

Clearly events such as this, though rare, have occurred in the past. Monsoon season often sees bad floods somewhere or other in India, and this time it is Kerala’s bad luck.

But there are also big question marks against the management of dams, which could so easily have prevented much of the disaster.

It is reminder of the fact that, as far as India is concerned, the monsoon is central to its economy, and the more rain that falls the better. Inevitably, this can come with much human suffering.

In this case, the prospect of extra hydro power may have led to poor decision making.

14 Comments
  1. John F. Hultquist permalink
    August 18, 2018 7:31 pm

    The coast near this area appears to be at an elevation above 5m and up to 10.
    Inland just 2 km. the elevation is just 1.5 m.
    Thus, the area behind the coastal rise is a basin that has be filled by sediments. The land is nearly flat, low, and poorly drained.
    If records have been kept, they will likely show flooding such as this happening on an irregular time interval going back centuries. Deforestation just makes it worse. Some years flooding will be at other locations, and only when the rains are average or less than average will no flooding happen.
    Modern communications allows the rest of the world to learn of this recurring damage in a near-time frame, instead of months or years after the fact.
    There is little that India can do about such things.

  2. Michael Ioffe permalink
    August 18, 2018 8:32 pm

    The cheapest way to escape any weather and climate disasters is growing stripes of forests between stripes of fields parallel to latitude. Understanding properties of water by scientists is the only one way to help nature.

  3. JCalvertN permalink
    August 19, 2018 2:46 am

    Most years, the main worry is whether the monsoon will happen at all. Stories from doctors in India. “That year, the monsoon failed. And the next year it failed again.” The narrator would pause for effect and the launch into a description of the horrendous consequences.

    • John F. Hultquist permalink
      August 19, 2018 4:12 am

      JCalvertN, Good point. Thanks.
      There is a movie (about 15 years old, + or -) of a narrator and camera crew that went to southern India in anticipation of the Monsoon. At first clouds appeared over the ocean but did not come close. People were very worried. But it did come.
      The crew went north with the rains. They filmed the happiness and the celebrations in each community as they and the rain moved north.
      I’ve forgotten the specifics.

  4. August 19, 2018 9:52 am

    This got a mention on the BBC cricket commentary yesterday, normally a rare politics-free zone, but now the words “unprecedented” and “changing weather patterns” get bandied about as undisputed facts. Not to mention praise heaped on commentator John Arlott for his stance on apartheid.

    Is any programme on the BBC now free of politics-by-proxy?

    • Athelstan permalink
      August 19, 2018 10:45 am

      I switched it off, during the second test v India, there was a lunch time discussion with ‘experts’ – journalists I think about cricket and in relation to and with global warming blah, blah, I couldn’t stand to listen to it.

      • Curious George permalink
        August 19, 2018 10:19 pm

        A cricket expert is a fully qualified climate change expert.

  5. August 19, 2018 10:44 am

    “The region’s chief minister, Pinarayi Vijayan, has described the flooding as the worst the state has seen in a century.”

    Does anyone know if there is any record of as bad, or worse floods 100 years ago, is that as far back as records go (which seems unlikely) or is it just a guess?

    I

    • John F. Hultquist permalink
      August 19, 2018 5:00 pm

      About other years:

      A specific place may not have made news in the past because of flooding.
      This is a problem about such events as rain, snow, and high winds. A direct hit of any of these can change with as little as a distance of 100 miles. Thus, place KABC makes the news one year, while place KDEF makes the news a year later.
      Thus, a local can say “this is the worst flood ever” and for her it may be true. Next year the story is the same, just a different place.

      Last year the location was Mumbai, 600 miles north of Kerala.

      December of 2015 it was Chennai, 300 miles northeast on the opposite coast.

      During the period 1871-2015, there were 19 major flood years, defined as . . .”
      mean summer monsoon rainfall

      The chart there indicates the worst flooding was likely during the 1940s to early 1960s. Highest appears to have been in 1961.

      There is ancient history:
      Monsoons in Ancient India

      • August 19, 2018 7:50 pm

        Thanks
        It does seem that they are referring to the 1924 flood.
        Overall monsoon rainfall does seem to have been higher in the period prior to 1961.
        No real sign of “climate change” however.

  6. MrGrimNasty permalink
    August 19, 2018 5:19 pm

    Wiki isn’t the best sources of info as we know, but search the list of deadliest floods for India, and it is common. Apparently 20% of all flood deaths globally occur in India:-

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_deadliest_floods

    What’s curious is that this Kerala flood in 1924 on a separate Wiki entry doesn’t seem to be in the above list.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_flood_of_99

    It’s probably because, historically, the death tolls are just unknown, but this incident was clearly in the thousands.

    Sad as the current situation is, it is common for the area, and very very unlikely to be the worst in 100 years.

    Blaming climate change is opportunistic and fraudulent.

    • August 19, 2018 7:41 pm

      Thanks
      Its a pity I don’t have a copy of Whitaker’s Almanack for 1925 as they often give details of floods.

  7. Europeanonion permalink
    August 20, 2018 11:16 am

    Tragedy it may be for some but the somewhat larded news reports being trumpeted by the BBC give a nod and a wink to the exception rather than the rule (they have just run a series focused on the Monsoon and it importance). I reflect on man’s activities and rather than man made global warming see man made human tragedies through mismanagement of resources. Murray-Darling, the Somerset levels, Australia again, gum tree conduits for fires to the centre of settlements, the irreversible tragedy of the loss of wild habitat in Britain allied to the lack of understanding of our nature and it dependency met with silence by authority (caught-up in their total mismanagement of immigration and the employment of panic measures to build dwellings which are now infecting settlements all over our country and taking away that sentiment that use to cherish neighbourhoods and cultures,). We are now given-over to the hope of a ‘new’ culture replacing the old supported, in the modern narrative, by the pejorative ‘NIMBY’ accusation and that racism, little more than the effect of confronting low paid indigenous people with having to contrive a society with those who have the capacity to undercut their incomes. The utter cowardice of inflicting those people with such a momentous task and then labelling them as racist for their misunderstanding allied to a natural anger.

    Floods are the thing. As soon as the one water company threatened A hose pipe ban the public responded by insinuating lack of mains maintenance and water loss attributable to bad management; the threat of a ban was lifted. We now have exponentially more water in storage in the domestic system a figure set to swell with the number of homes being built. It will be the standard view that reservoirs will be at a lower level. The next step will be to attempt more reservoirs taking more land and risking water table and river volumes. To be in the hands of developers, as we are, is rather like the inmate being in charge at the asylum. A form of privatisation which has only one outcome, the destruction of civil life as we know it, the abandonment of district care, civility in communities, stretching to increased selfishness and crime. How can you protect something that you are constantly told is not yours to cherish? A Conservative Government up to its eyes in centralised control and the abandonment of its rural ties. Mayhem.

  8. August 20, 2018 1:11 pm

    Reblogged this on WeatherAction News and commented:
    There’s seems to be little appreciation of how vast India is and how regionally there will be contrasts;

    Not that long ago it was drought that was the concern, whereas it will always oscillate between the two extremes somewhere in the Indian subcontinent;

    https://weatheraction.wordpress.com/?s=Monsoon&submit=Search

    https://craigm350.wordpress.com/2013/06/23/a-look-at-the-indian-floods/

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