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Two floods a days: Kerala’s Kumbalangi stares at a climate crisis.

Two floods a days: Kerala’s Kumbalangi stares at a climate crisis.

T R Joy built Janatha Ferry, Kumbalangi, a house in 1995 using a lifetime’s earnings from his work in the Gulf. Joy and his family lived in the house for 26+ years. They now live in a rented house just a few kilometers away. Floodwaters forced them out of their house. Joy, who works in Kumbalangi at a press, is one the many victims.

Kumbalangi, an inland fishing community located west of Kochi is internationally renowned for its scenic beauty. In 2003, the village was named the first model tourist village in the country. The village is bordered by backwaters connecting to the Arabian Sea. This means that tidal flooding has been a regular occurrence. However, the frequency and severity of these floods has increased dramatically in recent years, making it difficult for many people living on the island. Local residents blame visible causes such as the levelling of nearby rivers for their current problems. Experts, however, cite Kumbalangi along with several other coastal villages as a case study of the impacts of global climate change.

In 2003, Kumbalangi was named the first model tourist village in the country. Photo by Onmanorama/G Ragsh

What is tidal flood?
Tidal flooding refers to the temporary inundation and submersion of low-lying regions near the coast. It is usually caused by wind, offshore storms, or lunar phases. It is also known for nuisance flooding, sunny-day flooding, and king-tide floods. Climate change and other factors have led to a rise in the severity of tidal floods around the world.

The severity of the crisis
Local authorities claim that all 17 wards of the Kumbalangi Grama Panchayat are under threat from tidal flooding.

Joy’s Tharayil is located at the coast edge of the second Ward. “Tidal flooding (known as oruvellam in local parlance) has always been here. It became more frequent over the years. A year ago, the house that was inundated by flooding made it uninhabitable. We moved to a rental house. Standing long in the water causes skin problems and other health issues,” Joy said, standing in the water which had inundated his house the previous night. He was there to show the correspondent what was happening in his house and took a break from work.

The foundation of the house was 45 cm high. Joy continued to levelle the front yard with soil and concrete as the flood level rose over the years. Three of the front doors are now under concrete, but the water level has risen above them.

T R Joy standing in front of his house, which he had to evacuate due to flooding. Photo by Onmanorama/G Ragesh

Two houses in the neighborhood have been raised a few feet to stop flooding. It is a costly process. “My house can’t be escalated as it is old. Nor can I sell the property since nobody would buy such a land,” Joy said.

Also, a perpetually marooned plot
Jeevan Paul, his immediate neighbour, is facing a difficult situation. He is 56 and lives alone in his ancestral home, which is constantly flooded. He built an elevated path to get to his house from the floodwaters.

“My brothers have been asking me to leave this place and join them on the mainland. I can’t leave this house,” Paul said, almost breaking down.

“The frontyard of this house had a white sand bed. The yard was never flooded by tidal water before. But the situation has become worse in the past four years,” Joseph, a friend and neighbour of Paul, said.

Jeevan Paul built an elevated path to his house through the flood waters. Photo by Onmanorama/G Ragsh

What caused flooding to worsen?
Joy and Joseph both pointed out that the flooding occurred because of the natural levelling of river beds (backwaters), over time due to restrictions on removing sand from soil.

A few kilometers away, Velikkakath Praushothaman, a resident in the second ward, also shared the same concern. Another victim of flooding is Velikkakath Purushothaman. Onmanorama arrived at his house at noon to find that his front yard, 50m from the river, was still flooded from the previous night’s flood. The floodwater left garbage floating in the paddy fields near his house. Purushothaman was a local CPM activist and did odd jobs to make his living. He had to cover his house in wall tiles to keep his house dry.

Tidal floods transport garbage from the backwaters and place it on the premises. Photo by Onmanorama/G Ragsh

“My family has been living here for the past 85 years. Since 2005, the tidal flooding in the area has been extremely severe. Since the beginning of this year, flooding has been happening twice daily, almost every day. This entire area could soon become uninhabitable if the flooding continues. Earlier, floods only affected those who were close to the river. The water now reaches the land about 2km from the river via drainage. Trees and plants in the area have dried up due to the high amount of salinity in the water,” he said.

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P T Sudheer (the panchayat member who represents second ward) said that at most 22 houses in the area have been affected by the flood threat. He stated that the flood situation got worse after the 2018 floods which ravaged Kerala.

Velikkakathu purushothaman’s house is often inundated by tidal flooding. Photo: Onmanorama/G Rageh

Roshy Augustine, state Irrigation Minister, has been contacted by the panchayat authorities to seek a permanent solution. Sudheer stated that an action plan should be developed with the cooperation of the Kochi Corporation and neighboring panchayats.

Alarming trend revealed by study
Leeja Thomas, president of the Panchayat, stated that the flood situation is threatening the lives and properties of Kumbalangi residents. The panchayat assigned EQUINOCT, a start-up, to assess the situation and offer solutions. “The preliminary finding of the researchers is alarming. According to researchers, the floods are increasing in volume and will make life difficult for Kumbalangi over the next five to 10 years. We are going ahead with the study and trying to find a permanent solution to the problem,” she said.

A house that was raised to prevent flooding at Janatha Ferry (Kumbalangi) Photo by Onmanorama/G Ragsh

She said that a special gram Sabha (village assembly), would be convened soon to discuss this matter.

EQUINOCT CEO Dr C G Madhusoodanan said that the rise in sea level caused by climate change is the main reason for floods in coastal villages such as Kochi and Kumbalangi. “Usually there are two high tides a day in a gap of 12 hours. One will be higher than the other. In areas such as Puthenvelikkara, the tidal flooding occurs once per day. However, in Kumbalangi, floods occur with both high tides and tidal flooding. It is clear that the region has become so fragile. Solutions could be found only with detailed studies and more importantly with the involvement of the affected people,” he said.

Kumbalangi, an inland fishing community located west of Kochi is world-famous for its scenic beauty. Photo by Onmanorama/G Ragsh

Madhusoodanan mentioned that flood monitoring and flood mapping should be done in coastal villages in order to better understand the phenomenon.

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