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Both monsoon rains failed Kerala this time. The southwest, which typically brings heavy downpour for three months from June, showed 34 per cent deficiency in 2016. Still worse, tulaavarsham—as the retreating monsoon is locally called—was 64 per cent below normal in November-December. Result: Kerala is reeling under the worst drought in 115 years.
This March, yes, Kerala did receive a few days of intermittent summer rains, but that’s not enough to pull it out of its drought-affected status, according to the State Disaster Management Authority (SDMA). Two hill districts—Palakkad and Wayanad—are the worst affected, because of encroachment into the ponds and rivers alongside a steep decline in the groundwater. Further north, Kannur and Kasargod did not receive much summer rains, yet the condition in these two districts is not too bad because of the conservation of the ponds and rivers, says the SDMA.
Authorities are supplying water in tankers to the drought-hit areas. The Kerala administration has asked the Centre for a relief of Rs 1,000 crore. The reservoirs are left with only 40 per cent water against the requirement of 46 per cent. As for electricity, Kerala will have to buy it to the tune of Rs 1,500 crore from outside.
The estimated loss in agriculture sector alone is to the tune of Rs 300 crore, as 40,000 hectares of land have gone dry. “There has been no improvement in the consequences of the failure of the southwest monsoons and the northeast monsoons. The instantaneous assessment of drought is not possible like after a cyclone or a flood,” says KSDMA member secretary Shekhar L Kuriakose. “The management cost is much higher. The long-term implications of the water stress on a perennial crop like coconut will be reflected in the yield in the next 10 years. Another example is the damage to pepper crops. In some areas, they have been completely damaged.”
Palakkad district’s eastern part, which is a rain-shadow region that borders Tamil Nadu, is reaching a critical level of drought. Aggravating the situation is the entry of PepsiCo that has a soft-drink plant in Pudussery. The panchayat area has gone dry and locals are angry with the MNC and a lax government.
By Minu Ittyipe in Kochi