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Environmentalists Investigate The Kerala Floods

In 2014, as floods swept Kashmir, encroachments were blamed for diminishing the holding capacity of lakes and other water bodies, aggravating the impact of the heavy rains.

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An aerial view shows partially submerged buildings at a flooded area in the southern state of Kerala, India. VOA

As India’s southern Kerala state looks at the task of rebuilding in the aftermath of devastating floods that swept away homes, inundated farmland and destroyed infrastructure, environmentalists have raised the question: Could the damage have been reduced if more attention had been paid to sustainable development?

The floods were triggered by the most intense rains in nearly a century that lashed a picturesque state whose coastal plains and low-lying mountains beckon tens of thousands of tourists each year. Gates of overflowing dams had to be opened following heavy downpours starting August 8, sending water rushing across much of the state.

Environmental experts say a construction boom that saw houses, buildings and tourist resorts mushroom in areas that traditionally soaked up rainwater worsened the impact of the monsoon.

“There is a huge wave of construction, firstly on wetlands, which would have otherwise earlier stored water, no longer do so and encroachments on rivers,” said ecologist Madhav Gadgil, who in 2011 prepared a report for the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change on protecting the highlands known as Western Ghats.

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An aerial view shows partially submerged road at a flooded area in the southern state of Kerala, India. VOA

Natural resources

Gadgil said the massive construction prompted indiscriminate sand mining and quarrying in the mountains.

“A large number of landslides have occurred because of these stone quarries. Rubble from them has blocked streams and rivers,” he said. Some of the 400 victims of the recent flooding included people buried under landslides.

The rapid development in Kerala in recent decades was partly fueled by money from tourists as well as from a diaspora from the state that lives and works in Middle East countries.

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Map of Kerala, India. VOA

G.M. Pillai, the head of the World Institute of Sustainable Energy in Pune, claims the recent flooding was more devastating because of the disappearance of traditional paddy fields.

“About 80 per cent of the paddy fields in Kerala have been levelled or converted to other activities, either construction or rubber plantations. That is a huge environmental neglect,” he said. “Paddy fields are kind of wetlands in Kerala’s topography capturing water from the surrounding hills.”

Pillai, who grew up in a village in Kerala, said traditional drains have been blocked there, too.

He said the international airport, in the state’s main city, Kochi, was built close to the Periyar River and had to be closed after runways were damaged and floodwaters entered the airport. It is scheduled to reopen later this month.

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An aerial view shows partially submerged houses in flooded areas. VOA

Environmental degradation

This is not the first time that experts have drawn attention to environmental degradation as India caters to the ever-growing needs for more power, roads and homes for its 1.3 billion people. After heavy rains in 2013 triggered devastating floods and landslides in the northern state of Uttarakhand, an environmental panel said the buildup of sediment in rivers, caused by hydroelectric plants, had aggravated the flooding.

In 2014, as floods swept Kashmir, encroachments were blamed for diminishing the holding capacity of lakes and other water bodies, aggravating the impact of the heavy rains.

But others point out that the push for development cannot be ignored, Kerala, for example, has one of the highest population densities in the country, putting pressure on the land.

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Flood-affected people wait to receive food inside a college auditorium, which has been converted into a temporary relief camp, in Kochi in the southern state of Kerala. VOA

“A lot of people from the villages are coming to cities for work. So, naturally, development is necessary,” said John Samuel of the Institute for Sustainable Development and Governance in Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala’s capital.

But Samuel calls for a halt to construction along riverbanks and strict observance of environmental laws.

“They have lots of houses coming, flats coming on the banks of the river. That can cause more havoc,” he said.

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Some senior officials in the state have said that Kerala will have to seek sustainable development as it rebuilds damaged homes and thousands of kilometres of eroded roadways. But others worry that the mammoth task of reconstruction will only put more pressure on resources.

“The immediate requirement is constructing infrastructure which has been lost,” Pillai said. “But along with that you should also do what I call construction of environmental infrastructure, you have to restore a lot of those paddy fields, for example, which have been lost.” (VOA)

Next Story

India to Launch Electronic Intelligence Satellite Soon

In January, the space agency launched a defence imaging satellite Microsat R for the DRDO

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TESS, rover, NASA, mercuryKeplar, NASA
TESS, the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, is shown in this conceptual illustration obtained by Reuters on March 28, 2018. NASA sent TESS into orbit from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. VOA

India on April 1 will launch an electronic intelligence satellite Emisat for the Defence Research Development Organisation (DRDO) along with 28 third party satellites and also demonstrate its new technologies like three different orbits with a new variant of PSLV rocket, ISRO said on Saturday.

According to Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), a new variant of its Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) rocket will first put the 436 kg Emisat into a 749 km orbit.

After that, the rocket will be brought down to put into orbit the 28 satellites at an altitude of 504 km.

This will be followed by bringing the rocket down further to 485 km when the fourth stage/engine will turn into a payload platform carrying three experimental payloads: (a) Automatic Identification System (AIS) from ISRO for Maritime satellite applications capturing messages transmitted from ships (b) Automatic Packet Repeating System (APRS) from AMSAT (Radio Amateur Satellite Corporation), India – to assist amateur radio operators in tracking and monitoring position data and (c) Advanced Retarding Potential Analyser for Ionospheric Studies (ARIS) from Indian Institute of Space Science and Technology (IIST) – for the structural and compositional studies of ionosphere, the space agency said.

The whole flight sequence will take about 180 minutes from the rocket’s lift off slated at 9.30 a.m. on April 1.

The 28 international customer satellites (24 from US, 2 from Lithuania and one each from Spain and Switzerland)- will weigh about 220 kg.

OSIRIS-REx, NASA, Asteroid bennu
Satellite To Conduct Biological Experiments In Space, Plans Space Kidz India. VOA

“It is a special mission for us. We will be using a PSLV rocket with four strap-on motors. Further, for the first time we will be trying to orbit the rocket at three different altitudes,” ISRO Chairman K. Sivan had earlier told IANS.

The PSLV is a four-stage engine expendable rocket with alternating solid and liquid fuel.

In its normal configuration, the rocket will have six strap-on motors hugging the rocket’s first stage.

On January 24, the ISRO flew a PSLV with two strap-on motors while in March, it had four strap-on motors.

The Indian space agency also has two more PSLV variants, viz Core Alone (without any strap-on motors) and the larger PSLV-XL.

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The ISRO selects the kind of rocket to be used based on the weight of satellites it carries.

The ISRO will also be launching two more defence satellites sometime in July or August with its new rocket Small Satellite Launch Vehicle (SSLV).

In January, the space agency launched a defence imaging satellite Microsat R for the DRDO. (IANS)