“For the last six days, there is an alert issued for deep depression. But the sea was rough for only half a day,” one fisherman says.

Our livelihood affected Kerala fishers say inaccurate alerts sent post Cyclone Ockhi
news Livelihood Monday, March 19, 2018 - 16:03

Is the government issuing inaccurate and unscientific cyclone alerts to fishermen in Kerala, in the aftermath of Cyclone Ockhi? This is the allegation that the fisher community in southern Kerala has made. They say that these unnecessary alerts, along with the ecological damage caused due to Cyclone Ockhi is pushing them into poverty.

“After Cyclone Ockhi, the government, the church, and fishermen societies are issuing unscientific and inaccurate alerts frequently, and are stopping us from going to sea,” says Jose Alwin, a fisherman in Marianad area of the Thiruvananthapuram coast.

“After November 2017 – after Cyclone Ockhi – the frequency of these alerts is really high. Many a time, the alerts are wrong, and we just end up losing the opportunity for a catch. This is pushing us into poverty,” Jose tells TNM.

“For the last six days, there is an alert issued for deep depression. But the sea was rough for only half a day – and yet, the government and others stopped the fishermen from going to sea,” says Suresh Nicholas, an official of the Marianad Fishermen Society.

The numbers, fishermen say, illustrate this clearly. According to Suresh, in November 2017, the fishermen in the area were able to net fish worth Rs 2 crore.

“Now, this is come down drastically. It ranges between Rs 60 lakh and Rs 1.2 crore per month,” he says. “In December, the catch fell down to Rs 93 lakh. In January, it again fell to Rs 67 lakh, and in February, the catch was only Rs 71 lakh,” he adds.

The poverty in the area is worsening due to this, Suresh says.

“Last year, we sold fish worth Rs 75 crore. This year it won’t happen,” he says.

The fishermen have raised their concerns even as the state and central governments have been facing flak for their reported failure in issuing alerts on time during Cyclone Ockhi. Ockhi wreaked havoc in the state and scores of fishermen who did not get the alert on time died at sea. Both the Kerala State Disaster Management Authority (KSDMA) and the India Meteorological Department (IMD) were caught in a blame game.

Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan himself admitted the lapse on the day, saying that the cyclone alert was issued late.

During the cyclone between November 29 and December 6, around 240 people were killed and 661 are still considered ‘missing.’ Marianad is the only area where there was no loss of life during Ockhi.

A senior official from the Kerala State Disaster Management Authority has denied the allegations that the alerts are unscientific, and adds that their priority is to protect the lives of the fishermen.

“Our alerts are scientific. Now, we issue region wise alerts too to help fishermen. On the 10th and 12th of this month, we alerted the southern coast of Kerala. On 13th and 14th, we expanded the alert to all of Kerala, and on 15th, we issued it one for the northern coast,” the official says.

“When we issued the last alert, we came to know that around 50 boats had gone into the sea. We called them back. The fishermen are not aware of where the danger is – but we know it. Their life is important for us,” he adds.

However, Saju Lean, an activist in the coastal area, says that the government is least bothered about the livelihoods of the fishermen.

“They stop fishermen from going into sea. But they don’t provide any better support system,” Saju says.

Fishermen say that the system for issuing alerts needs to be more scientific, and demand that the government must provide compensation as well.

“Already, the catch is less and the support system from the government is also too low. At this juncture, government is issuing alerts frequently, and we are stopped from going for fishing,” John Augustine, a fisherman from the Poonthura area, says.

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