Idduki, has seen an enormous downpour of rocks, sludge and trees this month. The rubble and debris had disseminated over a large area and poured to the lower side of the Munnar settlements as well. Reports suggest that at least 65 people, mostly estate workers, were killed while five were missing as of August 27, 2020. Does more destruction await the people of Idukki?
Idduki, a district in Kerala, recently saw an enormous landslide that originated from the Shola forest that was just a few kilometres uphill from the estate where the labours reside. The landslip bought an enormous downpour of rocks, sludge and trees. The rubble and debris were disseminated over a large area and poured to the lower side of the Munnar settlements as well. Reports suggest that at least 65 people, mostly estate workers, were killed while five were missing as of August 27, 2020. The rescue operations were tentatively suspended because of the rising water levels in the river.
To fully comprehend the scale of the disaster, it is important to understand, what are landslides and what causes them?
Landslides are downslope movements of a mixture of rocks, earth or debris. They, essentially, occur when gravitational forces and other stressors exceed the strength of the materials holding the slope together. These stressors could develop due to several reasons-
- Natural erosion or excavation by humans could over steep the base of the slope
- Aggregation of debris on the surface of slopes
- Inflow of excessive water
- Short-term events like earthquakes
- Irresponsible and poorly planned constructions
- Changes in water levels etc.
Experts say that extremely high rainfall since 2018 agitated the hill slopes that were already susceptible to disasters. This pattern of rainfall made slopes that were not vulnerable, potentially susceptible to landslides. Human activities have further aggravated the situation in districts like Idduki and Wayanad. Landslides took their toll on at least 177 people in 2018 and 2019 in Kerala. Idduki was reported to be the most susceptible area with 1048 landslides in these two years.
The limited availability of land in Kerala makes it problematic for the authorities to designate habitable land as strictly restricted areas. Relocation of people is also not feasible given the significant number of inhabitants who would have to be displaced from the lowlands.
However, there are some management policies that experts suggest.
- Putting out a red alert for heavy rainfall and vacating areas that are susceptible to landslides during that period
- Real-time devices to gauge rain in vulnerable areas, so inhabitants can be evacuated in time.
- Devising a precise map that demarcates areas susceptible to landslides and installing warning systems
- Maintaining vegetation on slopes to help and retain soil.
- Avoiding accumulation of excess stormwater runoff
- Being mindful of human activities in vulnerable areas. For example, construction using loose material, defective cultivation practices or improper drainage systems.
This tragedy uncovers another issue at hand. It reveals the thousand of acres of land infringed by using forged land deeds. It brings about the stratification among the labours and the managerial staff. The estate workers, fishermen and tribes in the district are denied legitimate ownership of their own land. The plantation workers in Munnar also encounter the same problem. They continue living on hill slopes while the managerial staff lives in mansions at the top of hills. Gomathi, a member of the Devikulam Block Panchayat quite rightly said, “There’s been an increase in the wages earned by workers over the years. But in comparison with the rising costs of living, that’s a pittance. Climate change may have made landslides inescapable, but does that mean people should die?” Unless the government acts, there are many Munnars waiting to happen in Kerala.