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As rains begin to subside, Kerala worries about diseases from contaminated flood water

Officials say the biggest worry is containing the contamination of water sources; health minister plans a mass contact programme and cleanliness drive.

india Updated: Aug 19, 2018 10:00 IST
Ramesh Babu
Ramesh Babu
Hindustan Times, Thiruvananthapuram
Kerala rains,Kerala floods,Epidemic outbreak
The catastrophic impact of the monsoon is a grim reminder that vigil against natural disasters should never be lowered, CM Pinarayi Vijayan said.(PTI Photo)

On a day the Prime Minister made an aerial recce of flood-battered Kerala and the sun peeped out for a bit from behind the clouds, the state appeared to be staring at an epidemic outbreak .

State health officials said, with the rains letting up a little after several days, the biggest worry was how to contain the contamination of water sources in several areas to prevent the outbreak of disease. “It is a big concern. We have already given directions to local bodies to take up a cleaning drive at the earliest. We are also planning a mass contact programme,” Kerala health minister P K Shailaja said.

The Prime Minister announced a financial assistance of Rs 500 crore after surveying the devastation caused by the worst floods in the history of Kerala, and assured that adequate relief, including foodgrain and medical supplies, would be provided.

Initial state government estimates put the losses caused by the large-scale damage to property and infrastructure at Rs 20,000 crore. Revenue officials said at least 20,000 houses had been destroyed and 15,000 partially damaged by the swirling floodwaters and the relentless rain.

Although the downpour abated a little and the sun shone briefly in Thrissur and Kozhikode after five days, many people opted to stay on in relief camps as they did not have homes to return to. Many said that apart from the clothes on them, they had little else by way of possessions as the floodwaters had washed everything away.

Sixty-two-year-old Kalyanikutty Amma, however, returned to Thiruvalla but couldn’t locate her home. All she found at the site were a few bricks. Distraught, she refused to leave the place, saying she preferred to float away with the water that had robbed her of her home and of her life’s savings. She was later forcibly taken to a nearby relief camp by National Disaster Response Force commandos.

Like Kalyanikutty, thousands of others have lost their homes. Not just that, over 10,000 kilometres of roads have been destroyed, communication and power lines have snapped, water sources have been contaminated and farm land and plantations devastated.

Experts said it would take several years for Kerala to recover, with many rivers having changed course and several hills having crumbled. The picturesque landscape of the state will not be the same again, they said.

Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan said Kerala would have to begin from scratch in several areas. Since most relief camps have been set up in schools and colleges, it will be a while before classes are resumed. All schools have been asked to divert stocks of rice and other supplies kept for the mid-day meal scheme to relief camps.

“It is a lesson for all. The state will have to contain naked exploitation of Nature. We need visionaries, not vote-bank politicians. At least for now, I hope leaders will dump their demand for more dams in the state,” said eminent environmental scientist V S Vijayan, a member of the Madhav Gadgil panel on the Western Ghats.

The catastrophic impact of the monsoon is a grim reminder that vigil against natural disasters should never be lowered, he said.

State opposition leader Ramesh Chennithala conceded that things wouldn’t be the same but exuded confidence that the people’s resolve would help overcome challenges.

“All sectors have been impacted by Nature’s fury but we will rise again like the phoenix,” he said.

The Prime Minister also announced an ex-gratia of Rs 2 lakh per person to the next of kin of the dead and Rs 50,000 to those seriously injured, from the PM’s National Relief Fund. He directed insurance companies to hold special camps to assess and release compensation under social security schemes.

First Published: Aug 19, 2018 07:57 IST