Summer 2018: Extreme weather strikes again, this time in Kerala

Rescuers evacuate people from a flooded area to a safer place in Aluva

Rescuers evacuate people from a flooded area to a safer place in Aluva in the southern state of Kerala, India. Photo credit: Reuters / Sivaram V.

By Anders Lorenzen

The seems no end to the misery of the 2018 summer in which a host of extreme weather events has unfolded across the world. This time it is India’s turn as the southern state of Kerala has been hit by extreme monsoon rainfall and floods.

At the time of publication, the death toll had reached 350, with 220,000 people left homeless.

The heavy rain and floods triggered landslides and torrents of water have swept through villages – in what is the region’s worse monsoon floods in 100 years. According to meteorologists, Kerala had received an average 37.5% more rainfall than usual. This indicates an uneven spread of rainfall as some regions have actually been getting less than usual rainfall – predictable trends as the climate warms.

Local officials estimate about 6,000 miles (10,000km) of roads had been submerged or buried by landslides, and a major international airport in Cochin has been shut until 26 August. Communications networks were also faltering; making rescue efforts harder to coordinate.

Across the state, residents used social media to post desperate appeals for help, sometimes including their GPS coordinates to help guide rescuers. Rescue missions were led by determined volunteers.

It is actually estimated that the Kerala floods contributed to a total 900 deaths, the Indian home ministry says.

Kerala’s chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan declared on Twitter that the state is “facing the worst floods in 100 years”, and added, “we’re witnessing something that has never happened before in the history of Kerala”.

The floods have put pressure on the dams in the state. A dozen has reached dangerous levels, and 34 dam and reservoir gates have been opened.

Officials from the India Meteorological Department have said that sustained low-pressure conditions over India’s western coast this year have caused the flooding in the state. However, some studies have found that climate change and deforestation were the main causes of an increase in rainfall.

Environmental scientist Dr VS Vijayan attributes the floods to human incursions and unscientific developmental activities in ecologically-sensitive areas: “This was waiting to happen. Insensible use of land, soil and rocks led to this deluge. Landslips and flash floods happened in areas that witnessed widespread human incursions. I hope everyone will learn a lesson from this. Due to climate change, such tragedies are bound to increase. Nobody can stop rains or control floods. But we can take measures to lower the intensity of such impacts”.

Kerala is famous for its varied demography, culture, rolling hills, and beautiful backwaters. The region has embraced eco-tourism as a key pillar in its sustainable economic development. It is unclear how much of an impact this bout of extreme weather will have on the tourism industry in the state.

The Keralan floods are the latest example of the freak weather patterns that has rocked the globe this summer.

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