Kerala Floods
The scientists added that they would recommend that human settlement not be encouraged in the landslide-prone areas of Idukki.
Image courtesy: Jijo Kurian

Human settlement in landslide prone areas will not be encouraged henceforth in Idukki. The decision came after a study conducted by the US-based National Science Foundation (NSF) scientists found that Idukki saw a purely manmade disaster during the recent floods in Kerala.

The team conducted a five-day study in Idukki, led by Dr Thomas Oommen, Associate Professor, Michigan Technological University and Dr Rick Coffman, Professor, University of Arkansas. University of Kerala, Department of Geology, Assistant Professor Dr Sajin Kumar KS co-ordinated the study.

During the recent floods in Kerala, homes crumbled in 52 spots in Idukki. The NSF team visited Niramalacity area near Kattappana; Nedumkandam near Mavadi; and the landslide-hit areas of Munnar and Panniyarkutty. "The study shows that human settlements should not be encouraged in the landslide-hit areas of Niramalacity and Mavadi. In such places, there is always a threat to life since landslides can destroy homes and agricultural lands once again,” Sajin Kumar said.

Even a small amount of rain can lead to another landslide in these areas, the study found. "It is recommended that the area should not be used for construction and living purposes anymore," he said.

Over nine homes and 20 acres of land have crumbled down in Niramalacity. "Most of the affected families in the area are small-scale farmers," explained Benny Kurian, member of Kattappana Municipality.

The natives in the Nirmalacity and Mavadi areas were anxious and upset when they learnt that the scientists would not recommend settlement in these areas.

“The landslide destroyed our homes and agricultural land. We only recently renovated our home and spent Rs 2 lakh on it,” said Sherly, from Niramalacity. “After the landslide, our home was completely destroyed. We have nothing left now and have no idea on how to survive this situation."

The scientists also found that landslides in Munnar were manmade. On August 14, a big landslide destroyed the Munnar Arts College building. A report prepared in 2017 by Sajin Kumar and Thomas Oommen had pointed out that over 60% of Idukki district is landslide prone, which includes the land where the Munnar College is situated.

Sajin Kumar said that the warnings in one of their earlier study came true in the Munnar College area. "I had prepared a chart on the situation earlier and then, once again, after the landslide in the area. Post landslides, the soil in the area has become more loose now. More landslides can happen. We recommend not to conduct any construction activates in the college premises," said Sajin.  

Read: Unchecked, unscientific construction led to landslides in Idukki, say experts

The team will submit a primary report to NSF within a month. He added that the report will be available online and anyone can download it. If needed, the team was planning to conduct more studies in the area.

"We need to fix the rain gauges in the landslide prone areas to measure the rain thresholds, and we can evacuate people from the landslide-prone areas and save lives," said Dr Thomas Oomen.

Major 19 landslides claimed 46 lives this year, and more than 1,000 acres of property was destroyed. Seven people are missing in the landslides and their bodies are yet to be recovered. Idukki witnessed 278 landslides and 1,800 mud slips this monsoon alone.

Panniyarkutty, a village near Adimali, was completely wiped out by the landslides. The NSF team visited Panniyarkutty and interacted with locals there.

Read: ‘Never thought we’d come back to nothing’: This Idukki village was wiped out in floods

A team from the Geological Survey of India (GSI) is also studying the landslide-prone areas in Idukki. GSI officials told TNM that their colleagues have collected soil, water and rock samples from near Adimali and Munnar Arts College. The team will submit its report within a week to the State Disaster Management Authority and District Collector.

This article has been produced in partnership with Oxfam India. In the last 10 years, Oxfam India has delivered over 36 impactful humanitarian responses in India. Oxfam India is providing critical relief to the affected families and communities in Kerala: clean drinking water, sanitation, and shelter kits. Click here to help #RebuildKerala.