Tourism and plantation in Kerala face heavy loss post the monsoon flood

Thiruvananthapuram: Floods due to the unprecedented monsoon in Kerala has wrecked the tourism industry and seriously impacted the plantation sector, two of the most important revenue sources of the state.

Just as the tourism industry was recovering from the cancellation of bookings at hotels and resorts following the Nipah virus outbreak, heavy rains and floods caused more damage, industry sources told PTI.

The plantation sector has suffered huge losses due to landslides and flooding in the latest phase of monsoon rains since August 8. The picturesque districts of Idukki and Waynad, the most sought after destinations by tourists, are among the worst hit ares in the state.

State tourism affected widely

According to Indian Association of Tour Operators (IATO) Senior Vice-President EM Najeeb, 70 to 80% cancellations has already taken place in Idukki, Munnar, Kumarakkom, which are among the most preferred destinations by domestic and international tourists.

The downpour played spoilsport for the tourism department’s plans to organise the famed snake boat races under a new league. Snake boats or ‘Chundan Vallams’ are canoe style boats which are 100 to 120 feet long and hold up to 100 rowers. The Champion’s Boat League on the lines of the Indian Premier League (IPL) and other sport leagues were supposed to have kick started from August 11 this year. The annual Nehru Trophy boat race, expected to mark the beginning of the league in Alapuzha, had been postponed in view of the natural calamity.

“We will find a new date. The government is presently busy with relief and rescue operations due to the floods and landslides in various parts of the state,” Kerala Tourism Director P Bala Kiran told PTI. The rains would also dampen the proposal to organise feasts at homes of people in villages for tourists under the Responsible Tourism Mission of the Tourism department during the annual Onam festival.

Threat to plantation of coffee, tea, spices, rubber

Another casualty of the incessant rains is the blooming of ‘Neelakurinji’ flower in the hills of Munnar, a once in 12 year occurrence which attracts large number of tourists. The floods and landslides have wrecked havoc to the plantation sector in the hilly regions of the state which produces spices, rubber and tea.

Idukki, which produces over 12 largely exported varieties of spices, including pepper, cardamom, cinnamon, nutmeg, and turmeric, was one of the worst affected areas.

The loss suffered by tea, coffee, cardamom and rubber planters due to the rains since the onset of the South West Monsoon has been pegged at Rs 600 crore,as per secretary of Association of Planters of Kerala Ajit B K.

The estimated loss of tea plantations alone was between Rs 150 crore to Rs 200 crore, he told PTI, adding around 100 acre had been lost in landslides and flooding of tea fields in Waynad. In case of cardamom, around 40% of the crop loss was estimated in Idukki and Waynad districts.

According to Spices Board sources, there is a roughly 35 to 40% loss of cardamom and pepper in Idukki according to feedback from farmers.

Why the devastation?

Kerala received 2,378 mm rainfall in over 88 days, four times more than normal — yet 30% less and spread over 61 days more than the deluge of 1924, the most intense flood in the state in recorded history, submerging as it did almost the entire coastline.

The reason for the flood of 2018 being as devastating as the 3,368 mm rainfall that Kerala received 94 years ago, is because the state has reduced its capacity to deal with such extreme floods by allowing illegal stone quarrying, cutting down forests and grasslands, changing drainage patterns and sand mining on river beds, said experts.

Most of the 373 casualties in Kerala were caused by landslides in the northern districts of Malappuram and Wayanad, and the central district of Idukki.

The “pressure gradient” — which determines pressure changes and, in turn, rainfall — between land and the Arabian sea, this monsoon was “very strong”, said Pai, causing heavy rain. “A low pressure developed in the Bay of Bengal and moving inland contributed to the heavy rain by making the winds stronger.”

When winds from the west slam against the Western Ghats, clouds form and rain falls. In general, stronger winds lead to more intense rain, D Shivanand Pai, head of the climatic prediction group at the India Meteorological Department, Pune, told IndiaSpend.

Extreme rainfall events cannot be stopped, but the impact of floods can be reduced if forests and natural landscapes are used as shields, VS Vijayan, a member of the Gadgil committee and former chairman of Kerala State Biodiversity Board, told IndiaSpend.

(With inputs from Agencies)