More than 350 people have died and 1.5 million been forced to move by flooding in the southwest Indian state of Kerala.
Heavy rains began on 8 August and continued up to this week. It is Kerala’s worst disaster since 1924.
Some 680,000 people are sheltering in relief camps and thousands of others are on high ground in areas cut off by floods. Supplying food, medicine and clean water is a growing challenge for authorities.
Many of the deaths came when villages were wiped out by landslides.
Authorities said the floods had destroyed tens of thousands of houses, submerged 40,000 hectares of farmland—including those growing tea, rubber and other commodities—and damaged 83,000 kilometres of roads
There is a huge danger that water-borne diseases such as cholera, dysentery, typhoid, diarrhoea and leptospirosis (Weil’s disease) could take more lives.
The devastation once again underlines South Asia’s vulnerability to flooding due to changes in rainfall patterns linked to climate change.
A World Bank report this year warned that the region’s megacities, including Mumbai—urban area population 20 million—and Dhaka—urban area population 18 million—in Bangladesh, appeared increasingly vulnerable as a result of rising average temperatures.
Ecologist Madhav Gadgil claimed on Monday that the floods and landslides are a “man-made disaster” as, in addition to the increased rainfall, illegal constructions on river beds and unauthorised stone quarrying also made conditions worse.
When the downpours began earlier this month, state authorities assured people that the situation was under control.
But rainfall was more than two-and-a-half times heavier than usual in the week to 15 August and 457 percent more than average in the worst-hit district of Idduki.
Right wing Indian prime minister Narendra Modi, has said the national government will provide less than half the amount of aid the state government said is needed.
He took a helicopter flight over the devastated region, but there have been far too few helicopters flying rescue and relief missions.
Kerala is run by a leftist coalition and Modi has been criticised for giving only meagre relief to a state ruled by his opponents.
Students in several parts of India have held vigils and protest against the central government’s lack of response.
In Kerala there have been angry protests against profiteering. They have won cancellation of food price rises.
While the authorities dither, ordinary people are doing their best to help.
Thousands of people collected food, medicine and clothes to be sent to the relief camps.
Around 600 fisherfolk from the Kerala coast are also involved in saving flood victims. They are estimated to have rescued over 16,000 people.
“The bulk of the credit for the rescue goes to the ordinary citizens,” said one local official. “People have been sharing whatever they had.”
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