A mat, bucket, mug, broom and a kit with some provisions – armed with this, residents of Kuttanad slowly start coming home, almost two weeks after they were moved to relief camps as floods and landslides wreaked havoc in Kerala.
The residents of Kuttanad have seen floods before, having the lowest altitude in India, but the deluge this time was unlike anything the residents had ever seen before. Moreover, since it lies below sea level, the water has still not receded, hampering rehabilitation work in the area.
Everyone had to evacuated from this region when the waters began rising. Even now, most of the houses stand empty as the lakes on either side are still overflowing and the houses are flooded.
Residents with their homecoming kits in Kuttanad.
“This is all we have now,” says Omanakuttan, a resident of Chennamkary Panchayat, pointing to the kit provided by the relief camp. The only clothes I have are this lungi and shirt I am wearing now. I have nothing left.”
Omanakuttan, along with his wife, two kids and other residents of the area, were moved to the relief camp in Masthanapally.
“We are not sure how strong our houses are, but how long can we stay in relief camps?” asks Sreedevi, Omanakuttan’s neighbour. “We have nothing left in the house. We heard the government will give us Rs 10,000, but we don’t know when we will get that.”
Nearly 2.7 lakh people were evacuated from Kuttanad on a war footing, and several people had to move from relief camp to relief camp as even they started getting getting flooded. People were housed in relief camps as far away as Cherthala and Kollam.
“We were first housed at a camp near a boat jetty in Alappuzha, but because even that started getting flooded, we were moved to Masthanpally,” says Sheeba Vinu of Chennamkary.
Bus services hit
For the people of Kuttanad, the Alappuzha-Changanassery Road – or AC Road as they call it – is of prime importance for it connects the region with the rest of Alappuzha and neighbouring Kottayam.
“All other roads begin from there and all other roads end there,” says Joseph, a resident of Kuttanad.
This is the second time in two months that Kuttanad was flooded – the first time it was inundated was in July, sending scores of families to relief camps, which were functioning inside big boats and ferries.
In August, all of Kuttanad was inundated, forcing authorities to mass evacuate people – something the region’s history had never seen before.
“The AC Road was blocked in July, and vehicular traffic was restored after 25 days. It was flooded again in August. At present, services to Mankombu has been restored, but bus services are yet to resume. So we’re isolated right now,” adds Joseph.
The paddy fields that the region is known for are devastated owing to the bunds getting breached as the levels in the Manimala and Achankovil Rivers rose above the danger mark. And now because the bunds have been breached, the water isn’t receding from the area.
Authorities are now looking for ways to artificially pump out the water to reduce the water levels.
“We have to resort to pumping out the water. Otherwise service on AC Road cannot resume,” says Alappuzha District Collector S Suhas.
Water transport too has been hit since the floods. Residents of Pulinkunnu, Kavalam, Nedumudi and Chambakulam panchayats use boat services more than buses, while in Kainakiri panchayat boats are the only mode of transport.
Water transport in Kuttanad.
While boat services have resumed, they are still limited.
“All the boat jetties are damaged. Now, the boat services are only being operated from Alappuzha’s main jetty. Regular service could resume from 30 August,” a government-employed boat operator, who didn’t wish to be named, says at Nedumudi Jetty.
Listening to his words are Kurien and Lilly Kutty, an elderly couple. They are on their way back home to Chambakkulam, after they moved to their relative’s house when the rains began.
“This is the first time I have witnessed such a deluge. It’s true that we are used to floods, but this is the first time that we were forced to leave our houses,” says Kurien, who is in his late 70s.
“My younger son had gone to clean the house, but it won’t be an easy task. It will take days to clean up the house,” says Lilly.
“Not just cleaning, but we also fear that the walls of the house could collapse when we touch it,’ says Ambili of Chennamkary.
Kainakiri Panchayat, the most isolated
While Kuttanad is still partially isolated, Kainakiri, the lowest lying region, has been worst affected.
People of the panchayat, including president Sheela Sajeev and Vice-President Jijo Pallikkal, have been living in relief camps for the past two weeks.
The houses are still flooded, and electricity and water to the houses are yet to be restored. There are 5,579 houses in the panchayat, and people of the 15 wards in the panchayat have been housed in 10 relief camps.
“Kainakiri is right at the end of Kuttanad. Though the water levels in the Pampa and Manimala Rivers have decreased, water from other areas flowed into Kainakiri. So the water still hasn’t receded from this area. Moreover, bunds here have also collapsed, so pumping out water from here could be difficult,” says Jijo Pallikkal. “People living in camps keep calling us, asking when they will be able to come home. But there’s no water or electricity in the houses.”
Residents examine their property in Kuttanad.
Mobile towers too were damaged in the crisis.
Food and material that has been supplied to the area has been stored in the panchayat building, but they are unable to distribute it now. “There is a lot of material kept here, but we can’t distribute it. We need 18,000 plates and spoons. We only have 500 so far. All the material has to be distributed to the entire district, not just Kainakiri. We also have to see how we can evenly distribute the relief material,” a government staff says.
Authorities however are optimistic that since cleaning work is in full swing, more people can start returning home.
“We all are pitching in with the cleaning, but 300 people have come in from outside. It has been directed that everyone should take part in the cleaning, except elderly people and children. We are doing everything we can to bring our lives back on track,” says Jijo.
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.