Kerala Floods-a lackadaisical approach to disaster recovery
Don’t give up hope, keep it alive: I said to myself when I saw a recent news item on the Kerala flood disaster rebuilding efforts. The news provided a glimmer of hope, as the government decided to act on the UN report and borrow Rs 3,500 crore from the World Bank to start the rebuilding process. It is only about one-tenth of the money required, but it is a start.
The flood, the worst since 1924, devastated Kerala but united us all together irrespective of isms, and political shades to help support the victims. Even politicians and religious leaders set aside their squabbling and presented a united front to confront the flood situation. Individuals, NGOs, and governments around the world empathized with Keralites and pledged a vast amount of aid money into the coffers of various flood relief organizations. I put aside my apprehensions and thought it was going to be a prudent relief and recovery effort. I believed the unprecedented level of cooperation would continue, and we could see a fast rebuild of Kerala like that was experienced by post-WWII Japan.
The disastrous flood was almost eight months ago. Too much water has flown under the bridge since then. Even before the floodwaters completely receded, I noticed a change in the overall behavior of political leaders. I saw a waning interest in the calamity and heard only a deafening silence from the usually vociferous leaders. The how, when, where questions on rebuild received only vague answers. It looks like we lack a comprehensive strategy to deal with the aftermath of disasters. So far nothing substantial has been undertaken to clean up, rebuild, recoup lost livelihood, wrecked businesses, and damaged infrastructure.
Months of inaction made me apprehensive. I thought the rebuild was totally lost in the shuffle of mundane politics. Even the plight of the despondent victims took a backstage as our politicians, religious pundits, and the media turned their attention to the news that has more color and longevity and better optics. Media coverage also started fading along with the floodwaters. It looks like the great floods of 2018 lost the ‘luster' as other hot news items garnered strength. The attention of the politicians and pundits switched abruptly to wherever there was a new photo opportunity. The Supreme Court’s decree on women’s rights to enter the Sabarimala temple came into effect and it became the ‘news de jour’. Then came the all-Kerala political rallies, and hartals. To top it up, the assassinations under the smokescreen of politics took over many hours of screen time; finger-pointing, bickering, accusations, innuendos and never-ending deliberations. Then, the recent terrorist action that killed our brave Jawans, and the repercussions associated with it and the election fervour took over the front pages.
Flood victims are still facing apathy and neglect. People have been suffering greatly not only from natural disasters but from irresponsible political activism. Political posturing, and indiscriminate activism, often violent, go unhindered. A sort of political juntaism is becoming our cultural identity. And the indiscriminate hartals hurt economy, kill commerce, and jobs, impede travel and tourism, create chaos, lawlessness, and impact the livelihoods of millions.
We faced Mother Nature’s wrath as the Great Flood, cyclone Ockhi, and the Nimpah outbreak. We endured man-made, and politically motivated but extremely disastrous hartals, innumerable ones, in 2018. As we are into a brand-new year, and as we make, recycle, and break realistic and not-so-realistic resolutions, we cannot simply give up hope. I thought the great flood recovery was stalled, totally out of our political minds, and or vanished completely. However, it looks like there is a ray of light at the end of the long and dark tunnel. The news on flood funding and the Government’s willingness to start the recovery process soon is commendable. The news gives us hope. Let’s build on to it.