India helps rebuild Kerala brick by brick

New Delhi: As Kerala is struggling to rebuild itself back after one of the worst natural calamities hit the Malabari state in a century, help is pouring in from every corner of the country.

We spoke to Devendra Tak with non-profit organisation Save the Children, who currently in Kerala, to get an overview of the ongoing relief work in the southern state.

Having worked in Calicut, Alleppey and Wayanad, he was able to give an insider’s view on the current situation, “When I arrived here, several parts of the state were fully submerged, and people had to flee their homes and live in relief camps. Now with the rains gone, and receding floodwater, people are gradually returning to check on their homes which were submerged in floodwaters.”

Photo: Save the Children

“People across the state returned to their homes to find all the water in their wells contaminated. And these contaminated wells can’t be repaired easily. One cannot remove all the dirty water immediately since the wells might crack up, so they will have to let the water dry up before they can clean them. This process in itself may take more than two-three months. There is a major water crisis now; one cannot survive without clean water, even in a well-maintained house,” explained Tak.

Several young people from across the state and neighbouring states have come to help, and have been involved in voluntary relief service, informed Tak. “Young doctors and engineers have been cleaning people’s homes, spraying them with disinfectants, other than just bringing relief material.”

This being the most devastating flood the southern state had experienced in a hundred years, several houses have been destroyed completely. While hundreds of people lost their homes, major destruction was also witnessed in government property as some roads were also washed away in some areas.

“In Kalpetta I met a widow who used to live with her children in a two-story house, of which one floor was on rent. The road which led to her house has been washed away in the floods, and now this small stretch of road has to be rebuilt by the government. When will the government be able to do that is a big question since they are involved in a lot of work now. Till then, the family can’t live there, nor can they put up the house on rent,” said Devendra. While he mentioned the trauma of just one family, there must be hundreds who are homeless and have had major losses in terms of property.

Photo: Save the Children

Snakes and rats have become a huge problem, as they have come out of their normal habitat during the flood, and moved into houses. Waterborne diseases are a threat with stagnant water providing a comfortable breeding ground for mosquitoes and other disease-causing insects.

“Animal carcasses and human bodies lying in various places are also a concern of contamination. The state government has begun an initiative to pick up the animal carcasses lying around and dispose of them properly,” informed Devendra Tak.

It is estimated that there are about 4 lakh tribal people living in Kerala, and with several areas cut off, it is difficult to help them. “Even though Kerala is one the most developed states in the country, the tribals do not have access to all the amenities, and hence are in quite a troublesome spot,” said Tak, as people are trying to reach out to the remote areas to help the tribals, who mostly live in the Wayanad district.

Children playing in the relief camps in Kerala. Photo: Save the Children

As the name goes, Save the Children organisation focuses on children, and are trying to help the flood-affected kids to cope with the situation. “We have established a few child-friendly spaces, in the camps. These temporary spaces enable children to interact with one another in a safe environment with a trained local volunteer. They can learn, and take part in recreational activities, and relax. We believe that the emotional trauma of a child in these cases is completely ignored. A child who has not seen images of a broken down house before or faced a calamity, goes through a huge emotional trauma, and therefore need psychosocial support,” said Devendra.

Photo: Save the Children

People have lost an entire lives’ saving including clothes, jewellery, and important documents like passport, Aadhaar cards, property papers, insurance documents. The government has plans of setting up kiosks to help them regain government documents in the coming days.

The state which thrives on tourism and plantation of coffee, tea, spices among other crops faced huge commercial losses caused by the floods. Plantation owners are in a very bad situation, they can’t even afford to keep labours.

After the Nipah virus attack earlier this year, this flood caused a lot of cancellations in hotels, tourism companies, and it is like a double jolt for the entire tourism-based businesses in the state.