Lesson 69: Natural Disasters (Level 2+)

A natural disaster is an adverse event resulting from natural processes of the Earth. Floods, hurricanes, tornadoes, volcanic eruptions, earthquakes and tsunamis are all examples of natural disasters.

The August 2018 floods in Kerala are an example of a natural disaster.

Often referred to as God’s Own Country because of its natural beauty, interesting history and religious tolerance, Kerala is also India’s most densely populated state. With a literacy rate of close to 94%, Kerala has the highest level of literacy in India.

Onam, a harvest festival, is celebrated in August or September by all communities in Kerala. Sadly, this year, no one was in a mood to celebrate. In early August, the worst floods in close to a century submerged several areas in Kerala, killing over 400 people and displacing over 720,000 people. In this short period, the state received 771 mm of rainfall – almost 180% more than usual. The incessant rain meant that 78 of the state’s 80 dams were filled to capacity; hence, the authorities were forced to open the gates controlling the flow of water. This sudden rush of water led to flooding in six districts.

For ten days, the state witnessed a heroic rescue operation. The air force, navy and coast guard pilots flew their helicopters in perilous conditions to rescue survivors. On the ground, nearly 5,000 fishermen joined in the rescue operation with over 450 boats.

Some of the challenges faced are:

  • Clearing tons of garbage and mud brought in by the floodwaters and deposited on roads and bridges.
  • Ensuring safe drinking water. This is a big challenge as wells, ponds and pumping stations will have to be cleaned and serviced.
  • Providing medical care for the victims. Special medical assistance control rooms in flood-affected areas and relief camps have been set up.
  • Prevention of water borne diseases, such as typhoid, dysentery and hepatitis. Besides this, hospitals have been advised to stock anti-venom. People have been asked to beware of snakes – fleeing, like people, to higher ground.
  • With thousands of kilometres of broken roads, damaged bridges and submerged transformers, repairing the state’s shattered infrastructure will be a big task.
  • Kerala’s main source of revenue is tourism. Several of these tourist spots are now covered in the red soil that washed down from the mountains.

Why did this happen?

  • Permissions given for mining, quarrying and heavy construction without thinking of the impact.
  • The real estate and infrastructure booms in the state disregarded urban planning guidelines.
  • Deforestation and change in land-use patterns have aggravated the flooding.
  • Forecasts of high-speed winds causing rains were not taken seriously.
  • More judicious release and use of water from the dams could have ensured a balanced flow from the start of the monsoon season.
  • More power could have been generated when so much water was available. Unfortunately, two of the six power units have been shut since 2017, for modernisation and annual maintenance.
  • Forecasting stations to predict floods and other natural disasters are needed.

 A) Vocabulary: Please make sentences with the following words. Your sentences should show that you understand the meaning of the words.

Incessant (adjective)–continuing without interruption; ceaseless; non-stop; unending
Perilous (adjective) – full of or involving risk; hazardous; dangerous
Submerge (verb) – to put or sink below the surface of water or any other liquid; to completely surround by or cover with water; to immerse
Calamity (noun) – a great misfortune or disaster
Infrastructure (noun) – basic facilities and systems serving a particular area, like transport and communication systems, power plants, schools, and hospitals
Anti-venom (noun) – medicinethat acts against the effects of venom, a poison produced by snakes, spiders, scorpions, etc.

 B) Discussion points:

  1. On the Internet, please look at a map of Kerala. Identify the main physical features of the state. How many rivers flow through Kerala? How many dams exist in the state?
  2. On the Internet, find some facts about the south-west monsoon. When does it arrive in Kerala? How long does the monsoon season last? Which districts in Kerala receive the heaviest rain?
  3. List three important facts about Kerala.
  4. Give three examples of natural disasters in India in the recent past. Discuss how these could have been avoided.
  5. Give two examples of natural disasters in the world. Discuss how these could have been prevented.
  6. Can you think of instances of communities coming together during a crisis to help the victims?
  7. Make a list of items that might be useful for people stranded in their homes during a flood. Think of the best and most efficient way of sending these items to the people who need them the most.