With the seawall they have been demanding not materialising, the residents are angry that they either have to stay in unsafe homes or go to relief centres with the coronavirus around.

Houses inundated during coastal erosion in Chellanam
Coronavirus Coastal erosion Friday, May 14, 2021 - 16:45

"Where do you even think we will go amid this COVID-19 pandemic?" Sebastian exclaims in anger when asked if he will be evacuated from his flooded house in the coastal village of Kerala's Chellanam. As he continues to talk, another wave hits his house and he at once hangs up to rush inside his home. Once again, Chellanam in Ernakulam district, is reeling under severe flood as turbulent sea waves crash on the shore. With no proper seawall for protection —  a demand which has been raised continuously for the past four years —  hundreds of houses in the Velankani-Bazar stretch of the village are severely inundated. And unlike before, the people are not ready to leave everything behind and run to the relief centres, as they fear another disaster —  COVID-19.

Since Thursday, heavy rains have been lashing across many places in the state. Weather warnings have been issued across the state due to the formation of a low pressure area in the Arabian Sea. The Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) has predicted that this is likely to intensify into a cyclonic storm. Amid the heavy rainfall in parts of the state, coastal areas are under the threat of coastal erosion. And Chellanam is facing the worst.

Visuals from the region show huge waves rushing through the houses, and neighbourhoods in the region, inundating everything on the way. Most of the houses belong to daily wage labourers and families of fishing communities.

Since 2017, when Cyclone Ockhi hit this coastal village, the residents have been demanding the construction of a proper seawall in the region. Though construction of the geotube seawall commenced in January 2019, not even half the work has been completed.

Numerous houses have been completely damaged in the past four years in Chellanam due to the lack of a protective seawall. And every monsoon, or similarly when cyclonic storms come or depressions form in the sea, the hapless people of the village suffer due to flooding and coastal erosion.

“We have knocked on every door in this state. We have met every officer. Yet we continue to suffer,” said Joseph Arackkal, a resident of the region in a video message he shared on social media.

Standing amid the gushing stream of sea water, Joseph slammed the authorities who failed to take protective measures. “During the past local body polls (held in November 2020), the government promised to address the issue immediately. Later, during the Assembly polls (held in May), the sitting MLA (KJ Maxi of the CPI(M)), again promised to address the matter. He hasn't done what he was supposed to do in the past five years,” said Joseph, who is also part of the Chellanam Janakeeya Samara Samithi.

The Chellanam Janakeeya Samara Samithi has been holding various protests on the issue over the past 500 days.

On Thursday evening, Ernakulam Collector S Suhas and Member of Parliament Hibi Eden, visited the spot to assess the situation. The district administration has started a relief centre and has promised to ensure distribution of food kits for the families.

However, the residents in the region say that they will not be moving to the relief centres considering the COVID-19 situation. “There are many people who are infected with COVID-19 in the region. We do not feel safe moving out. We don't feel it's safe staying inside our homes either, but we don’t know what to do. We are not ready to move to relief camps,” says John, another resident in the region.

"Everyone knew that this would happen and is aware that it will continue to happen, but there are no permanent solutions being implemented. We are being neglected," adds John.

According to reports, the coronavirus test positivity rate in Chellanam gram panchayat is 56%.

The IMD has declared a red colour code warning for Ernakulam district for Friday, predicting extremely heavy rainfall. Red colour warning directs the district authorities to take action. With the low pressure area likely to intensify into a cyclonic storm, the residents fear coastal erosion to become severe in the coming days.

Read: ‘Trapped between COVID-19 and sea erosion’: Kerala boy writes moving letter to President Kovind

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