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The Floods In Kerala Are A Man-Made Disaster

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It is looks like the wrath of the Gods is upon their own country. Kerala is in a deluge of biblical proportions. The ongoing rains and the ensuing floods are being compared with the Great Flood in the Bible. I am marooned in the city of Thrissur with no option to travel anywhere. The highways towards the south of Kerala are all flooded. Towards the north, where roads have been built through the Western Ghats, there are frequent mud slides in addition to water accumulation. Roads are shut, railways lines are inundated with water and airport runways are flooded. To me, this is not a natural but a man-made disaster.

Two of the most critical parameters of measuring and classifying ancient cities as ”developed and advanced” are their irrigation and drainage systems. The question is how efficiently did they bring water into the cities from water bodies and how did they manage to take the water out from these cities. All great civilizations of the past were located in the vicinity of the biggest rivers. If we take the same parameters and apply them to our cities then we would realize how woeful the conditions of our cities and towns are.

None of India’s big cities are planned; rather most of the cities and towns in India are unplanned ones. They got expanded based on the burgeoning population. Now, earth can be divided into hard grounds and low lying areas. Low lying areas are preferred for cultivation because of the ability of those lands to hold on to water. Hard grounds are preferred for construction. As population grows, so does the need for land. We inadvertently started taking up low lying lands for construction. Low lying lands have been getting inundated with water for centuries or thousands of years. Hence, carrying out construction activities on them is plain madness, even if mud is put on top of them and flattened out before doing the construction work.

What is happening with the floods in Kerala is very simple. There are two reasons for the flooding. If we look at the flood affected areas that are being broadcast on TV channels, it is clear that water bodies, primarily rivers, have overflown. It looks like the river water is going to continue this flow. But what this water encounters on its way are our towns and cities. There is nowhere for water to go so it gets stuck. The bigger reason for the flooding are the dams. News channels on Thursday were reporting that the Sholayar Dam in Tamil Nadu became full so they opened its gates which in turn flooded the Mullaperiyar Dam, opening which has caused the floods to worsen. This is clearly what environmental activists point at when governments start proposals for construction of new dams. These dams store massive quantities of water and hence when they flood, it’s majorly different from the case with rivers.

Kerala Floods. Source: Kerala CMO Twitter
A flooded region in Kerala. Source: Kerala CMO Twitter

So where will all this water go? There are three ways. Flow out – which is not an option anymore because it does not have anywhere to flow to. Otherwise, all the water has to be evaporated by heat, which is not possible as it is the monsoons or all the water has to seep into the earth, which is not possible as well as the base of these dams is tar and concrete, which don’t easily absorb water. As a result, water will try to flow to the low lying areas as it is used to doing so. But alas, we have occupied those places as well with construction, making flooding inevitable. The same has been happening in Mumbai every year. The same happened during the floods in Chennai. After having experienced three years of bleak monsoons in Bangalore, in 2004, it rained one day and I was caught right in the middle of it. The rain and wind were ferocious and in about two hours entire areas were flooded. There was nowhere for the water to go. Add to it the incompetency of the corporation – drainage system wasn’t cleaned and the rains had actually punctured holes on the roads. During the flood in Chennai, my friend was telling me that water levels had risen to 7 ft and higher at many places. Why is this happening? Simply because water has nowhere to go. The walls of the Kochi airport have been brought down to drain out the water accumulated on the runway. All of these are man-made constructions done without considering and caring about nature.

It would be ridiculous to blame the nature and the Gods for this disaster. I was taught in school that Kerala and Cherapunji are the places which get the highest rainfall in India. Monsoon seasons in Kerala have traditionally received moderate to extremely heavy rainfall every year. The intensity has waxed and waned in the last decade or so. The process of water evaporating and reaching the earth later as rain is one that plays the most critical role in nurturing an ecosystem. It helps make our planet conducive for life forms to live and evolve. No other living being goes against the rules of nature, especially disturbing and destroying nature for its own needs. This is not nature’s wrath or God’s punishment, this is nature following its rules and we are paying for coming in its way.

Nature has no empathy or compassion towards the inhabitants on this planet. The rule is simple. Adhere to nature’s rules and ways, or you suffer. Nature has no sympathy for the lives that are being lost in natural calamities. Animals and birds have their senses fine tuned to nature so they know well in advance if a disaster is approaching. If floods are coming, they instinctively move towards higher grounds. We are totally out of tune with nature. We are not part of nature’s food chain, which is why our population has grown so much. In the name of development, with zero planning and understanding of nature, we are on a collision course with it.

Natural disasters for me are nature’s way of reminding us that though we have been able to become the most dominant species on the planet, we can never become dominate nature. I hope we realize it before it’s too late that when nature cannot handle anymore of the destruction and imbalance we are causing it, it will go ahead and expunge us from its belly just as we vomit out what our stomach cannot handle.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

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The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

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