By Anjali Singhal
Regarded as the worst since 1924, the Kerala floods have led to the death of over 480 people and rendered hundreds of thousands of people homeless. As the water retreats, problems with the rehabilitation of the state are surfacing.
The aftermath of the natural disaster includes environmental and health hazards that prove to be an obstruction in the rehabilitation process.
Hundreds of cases of leptospirosis (rat fever) are being reported from the state in the weeks that follow the floods. Over a dozen have died due to the communicable disease which transmits from animals to humans.
The Health Minister, K.K. Shailaja advised people in the flood-hit areas to take precautions and a course of doxycycline. According to Kerala health officials, around two million people in the state would have come in contact with the flood waters and hence all of them should take preventive care.
Waste generated during the floods is another major concern. Experts say one week of flooding can generate solid waste equivalent to the amount generated over a decade, FirstPost reported. Hence the flood that wreaked havoc in Kerala may have left behind solid waste generated over a period of 15 years.
Huge piles of muck and mud have accumulated in the compounds of houses. Besides the household waste, cadavers of birds and animals are found lying unburied in many places.
The huge amount of food waste, plastic bags, wrappers and other sorts of packaging material have piled up at many locations. These were the leftover from the hundreds of tonnes of relief material received from various agencies and donors from the across the country.
The volunteers who came forward to clean the flood-ravaged houses have left all the floodwater-contaminated waste, including plastics and damaged electronic devices, on the roadsides and in common areas, adding to the health and environmental hazards inflicted by the floods.
“A major threat to health comes from electronic waste as it contains toxins like zinc, mercury, magnesium and lithium. Some of these also contain radioactive substances, which are very harmful to human health and the ecosystem,” Harish Vasudevan, an environmentalist and Lawyer told FirstPost.
Considering the fact that the state administration was not able to manage even the 8,000 to 10,000 tonnes of waste it usually generates every day, post-flood waste management seems to be a huge challenge for Kerala.
Former chief secretary Jiji Thomson told FirstPost that managing the flood waste is beyond the state’s current capacity as it is not equipped to handle even the waste generated in the normal course of events.
But entrepreneurs like Jabir Karat of Green Worms, a Calicut based waste management firm, are confident that the state can manage the problem. He says his company collected and disposed of 80 tonnes of solid waste, including e-waste, in various parts of Kozhikode district in just 15 days.
“We need the participation of the community and the local government institutions. If people can collect and segregate waste, and warehouses are made available to store them temporarily, we can solve it” he says.