Beyond the flood fury

The unprecedented floods and rains in Kerala emphasise the need for proactive preparation to meet such calamities. I had recommended in Sardar Patel Lectures of All India Radio in 1973 that we should have a drought code and a flood code ready so that we can minimise the adverse impact of deficit or excess of rainfall. The Kuttanad package presented to the government of Kerala also provides some guidelines for flood avoidance or management. In this connection, there is also need to study the impact of floods in the coastal regions of Kerala (old Travancore area), which contain radioactive minerals like thorium. Such monazite sands need to be conserved since they provide raw material for nuclear power plants. I hope the Kerala Science and Technology Commission will undertake this urgent task. Thorium came to our help when we were denied uranium.

Now that there are signs of abatement of the rain fury in many parts of Kerala, the time has come both to look back and to look forward. The immediate concern should be relief and rehabilitation of the affected population. At the same time, an inter-disciplinary committee could be set up to mitigate hardship during similar future rain induced problems.

I have dealt with these in several reports, lectures and in the Kuttanad package. Immediately, there has to be programmes aimed at the rehabilitation of agriculture and the plantation industry. At the same time, drinking water supply should receive the overriding priority. It is essential to avoid water borne diseases. For the future, we should set up in every panchayat a rainfall management centre, which will prepare both drought and flood codes for anticipatory action. For example, immediately in the case of agriculture, farmers need seeds or planting materials. The appropriate varieties will have to be provided. This will need building of ‘seed banks’ for use on occasions like this. I hope the calamity caused by the floods will become an opportunity for a flood tolerant agriculture. At the same time, the human dimension of flood management needs adequate attention.

India served as a global host of the 2018 World Environment Day. ‘Beat plastic pollution’ has been chosen as the focal theme. This is a very important issue and I do hope that the messages on the World Environment Day will help to improve understanding of the adverse consequences of plastic pollution. My message for this day was, however, on the need to step up our efforts in the field of water security. Even a city like Shimla suffered from acute water shortage, which resulted in the temporary shutdown of schools and even courts. I will, therefore, like to suggest that we in India should not lose further time in developing and implementing a water security system in every panchayat. The five-pronged water security system should consists of the following:

*Mandatory rainwater harvesting and storage,

*Surface water management (i.e. rivers and lakes),

*Groundwater conservation coupled with both supply augmentation and demand management,

*Waste water purification and recycling, and

*Seawater utilisation.

Sea water meets 97 per cent of the world’s water needs and it is important to promote sea water farming as well as below sea level farming.

Ecological factors need to be integrated with economic activities if we have to avoid the situation as we find today since drinking water has become very important. It may be worthwhile emphasising the need for attending to the following:

*Stopping the excessive exploitation of groundwater,

*Ensuring water quality and potability, and

*Equity in water sharing

There are many aquifer recharge technologies now available and they need to be combined with the traditional wisdom. There is also a need for the inter-state cooperation in order to ensure that water management is adopted on a watershed base. Micro-irrigation technologies are particularly important for plantation crops like coffee, tea and pepper.

Pani Panchayats will have to be organised by local communities so that water is not only saved but also utilised in a most equitable, economic and safer manner. The Kerala tragedy provides an early warning of a probable impact of climate change. More such tragedies are likely to occur in different parts of the country. Therefore, there is an urgency in developing and implementing action programmes based on principles of ecology, equity, employment and efficient energy use. If this is done, Kerala will truly become “God’s Own Country”.
(The writer is founder chairman of  MS Swaminathan Research Foundation)

M S Swaminathan