Ground Reports

Kerala: Forced Migration Owing To Climate Change Amid An Action Plan Worth Rs. 52000 Crore

Kuttanad, a low lying area in Kerala has been a victim of climate change. People here survive below the sea level and are provoked to leave their homes every now and then, owing to climate change.

By Hrishi Raj Anand, 12 Dec 2022

Mostly, this happens due to unscientific infrastructure projects. As per the Kerala govt, over 6000 families of the place with over 30000 members have abandoned their houses and properties in the last two years.

This region in Alappuzha district in Kerala lies more than 2mts below sea level and has the lowest altitude in India. It is a waterlogged region that spreads over about 110000 hectares. Of it, more than 50000 hectares remain submerged in water for most of the year.

The area is populated with mostly workers from rice fields, who do not even own those fields. Around 1.8 million people are surviving in these water-logged areas. 

There are several reasons why Kuttanad sees such problems throughout the year. The Vembanad Lake Ecosystem, which was at one time a source of prosperity is now turning out to be a bane for the region.

Due to the tourist inflows, unscientific construction of large-scale resorts, roads, bridges, and other infrastructure facilities has contributed to the present grim situation. There is a consistent lack of river management and backwater region protection facilities are making the situation worse.

The whole of Kuttanad has over 500 years of history of draining Delta swamps manually by the Dalit workers, who till date, remain under the clutches of landowners. Those who can afford to buy land elsewhere or find a job in another district, have moved but a major section still suffers. 

Although the residents of Kuttanad are accustomed to floods and are capable of dealing with high-level water tendencies, since 2018, the character of these floods has become much more aggressive leading to immense devastation capabilities. Even while other parts of Kerala do not witness any waterlogging, Kuttanad, due to its geographical nature, continues to be at the edge of disturbance owing to climate change.

Around a decade ago, plans were being made to implement schemes worth Rs 1840Cr, but nothing concrete seems to be done so far. There are over 8 such districts and many more villages that continue to suffer because of climate change. The govt very recently identified these districts and has set a plan to function from 2022-30 aiming at reducing the threats of climate change and making the place suitable for survival. 

The Pinarayi Vijayan govt identified Wayanad, Kozhikode, Kasaragod, Palakkad, Alappuzha, Idukki, Kannur, Malappuram, and Kollam are in the ‘high’ vulnerability class and laid down strategies to benefit the same. Since the state is more prone to natural calamities, planning and implementing policies related to climate action becomes a priority here. 

SUSTERA, a collective of students, professors, activists, and entrepreneurs is consistently working towards providing people with the information they need, and the ways of farming that could make their livelihood better, and their crops more sustainable. It also runs leadership programmes and generates ideas that could be used by the govt for the betterment of the State. 

Districts like Alapphuza where low-lying regions like Kuttanad lie, have high disease prevalence, a large population of very young, very old, and differently-abled, and reduced availability of healthcare facilities and relief shelters. In most districts, insufficient irrigation coverage and poor groundwater/surface water quality are fuelling the decline in adaptive capacity,’‘ the action plan, which used 17 indicators to map vulnerabilities, notes. 

The State suggested mitigation solutions will cost Rs52,238 crore, while the estimated cost of adaptation is Rs38,407 crore. “With an investment of roughly Rs52,238 crore over the timeframe, the anticipated mitigation techniques for the 2023–30 period under the action plan could prevent over 57,000 kilotons of carbon dioxide by 2030 from various industries (relative to the base case). The State’s portion of this is anticipated to be around 5%, and the Central government’s share is around 23%, according to the plan paper.

A higher percentage of electric vehicles in public transportation, a rise in the installed capacity of renewable energy to 3.46 GW, and the adoption of solar-based and energy-efficient techniques for the agricultural and industrial sectors are all significant mitigation measures for 2030.

The action plan also includes initiatives for agriculture, livestock, coastal fisheries, health, water resources, forests, and biodiversity, broken down by industry.

“This plan is extremely important since it identifies actions to safeguard the State’s diverse geographic settings, which include the Western Ghats and coastal lowlands, from the effects of global warming and climate change,” the Chief Minister said in his preface to the plan document.

The Chief Minister said, “Kerala is very sensitive to disasters and tragedies caused by climate change due to its geographical location.”

Therefore, he stated, “developing infrastructure that is resilient to disasters, strengthening institutional systems for better disaster responses, and rising incomes to support people’s ability to adapt to local consequences of climate change are vital.”

Rough calculations made by the state’s department of agriculture during this year’s first crop) season put the loss to farmers from Kuttanad at Rs 9,608 crore, covering crops of 6,582 ha. Farmers can no longer rely on the traditional farming calendar for accurate direction due to shifting rainfall patterns. Because of the rains in October 2021, the sowing for the first crop season didn’t finish by November as normal, which had an impact on the harvest.

A rise in temperature increases the likelihood of climatic dangers, and the most recent IPCC report stated that their effects may be irreversible. India is one of the countries in the world that is thought to be most susceptible to a rise in sea level, particularly due to the density of its population. This increases the need for stronger adaptation techniques in the nation.

To reduce the danger of crop loss, Kuttanad in particular has to embrace genuinely climate-resilient farming practices. The necessity of the hour is for people to be aware of “climate-wise” farming techniques, make the necessary investments, and put them into practice. (The World Bank defines “climate-smart” as agricultural productivity that adapts quickly to mitigation and adaptation measures.) 

All of this will only be possible if the implementation of the climate action plan works in favor of these low-lying regions in Kerala where the neediest reside. With the new plan to make Kerala carbon neutral, areas prone to floods, and the ones like Kuttanad that see consistent water logs, are yet to see a plan that could help them sustain a healthy lifestyle.