No other place in the State has suffered as much as Kuttanad as a result of natural disasters, specifically floods, in recent years.
While the great deluge of 2018 was the worst in a century, floods came back to haunt the region in 2019 and 2020 albeit with less vigour. After all, Kuttanad, a vast area of reclaimed land spread across three districts of Alappuzha, Pathanamthitta and Kottayam, is not totally immune to floods as it is a natural phenomenon occurring during a specific period of the year.
But what differentiates the floods in recent years from previous such occurrences were the frequency and the devastation it caused. However, not everyone is surprised to see things unfolding in Kuttanad as the place has been facing an environmental crisis of unprecedented proportions for the past several years.
For them what surprises most is that the environment and climate change remain peripheral subjects rather than being core issues for the electoral discourse in an ecologically fragile region.
“In a place such as Kuttanad, environmental challenges should be in the mainstream. But unfortunately, that is not the case as environmental issues barely feature in the election campaigns. When it comes to the development of Kuttanad, environment is a total outlier. Political parties talk about floods, paddy, roads and so on but the underlying problems such as ecological destruction, pollution of Vembanad Lake and canals, public health issues, sea-level rise, soil depletion among other things, which need urgent attention are totally ignored.
“It is high time political parties come up with an agenda promoting the environment and sustainable development of Kuttanad, which is fast becoming an uninhabitable place forcing many to migrate,” says, K.G. Padmakumar, Director, International Research and Training Centre for Below Sea level Farming, Thottapally, who is a resident of Kuttanad.
Mr. Padmakumar says the ₹2,447-crore second Kuttanad package, touted as a project for eco-restoration of the Vembanad wetland ecosystem, farming, development and flood mitigation, will open doors for more constructions in a place identified as a Ramsar site and a Globally Important Agricultural Heritage System.
Many feel that political parties were simply ignoring environmental issues as they are of not much importance to the people. P. V. Joseph, executive member, Kerala Sastra Sahitya Parishad, says the local bodies and political parties in Kuttanad are doing little to bring the environmental issues to the attention of the public.
“The real issue here is the environment is not a concern for political parties and local bodies and they are not ready to change. After the 2018 floods, all grama panchayats have been directed to prepare a disaster management plan and that remains on paper. In Kuttanad, everyone sees road development as the biggest achievement. We are not against development, but in a place like Kuttanad projects should be implemented after completing environment impact assessment and ensuring flow of water. We have urged political parties in Kuttanad to come up with a manifesto for local body polls by including ideas for sustainable development,” Mr. Joseph says.