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Lightning doesn't strike twice but in Kerala, flooding does

Thomas Christopher, Kochi - UCAN - Fri, Aug 23rd 2019

Residents forced to rebuild again as torrential rain wreaks havoc on anniversary of 2018 deluge.Lightning doesn't strike twice but in Kerala, flooding does

Residents being evacuated from their home on a wooden boat to a safer place in Kochi in the Indian state of Kerala on Aug. 10. (AFP photo)

The gleaming red marble floor of the portico reflected P. Velayudhan standing up and peering out at the torrential rain around his new home in Thrissur district.

This gleaming property replaced his thatched one-room shack, which was among 15,000 homes washed away in the devastating floods that hit this southern state of Kerala in August last year.

Just one month after he moved into his new home another flood hit the southern Indian state, as if to mark the anniversary of last year’s deluge. Velayudhan said he himself was safe and sound, despite flooding in several areas nearby.

Unusually heavy rain in the first 14 days of August caused massive landslips and flash floods, particularly in the hilly areas of the state, killing 100 people and destroyed 1,115 houses, the state government said.

“The destruction is less than last year,” said Father George Vettikattil, who heads the relief operations of Kerala’s Catholic dioceses that help people like Velayudhan.

Last year’s floods, the worst in a century, killed 480 people, damaged 75,000 homes and destroyed livestock alone worth US $24 million.

Velayudhan’s was one of the thousands of houses washed away last year. 

“Come, come,” the 74-year Hindu man said as he welcomed in guests along with his 72-year-old wife.

“I have this beautiful new house. What else would I need at this age,” he said.

Velayudhan in his new house a year after floods washed away his shack in Kerala. A church group funded his new home as part of their assistance for rehabilitation projects. (Photo by Thomas Christopher)

He only recently, on July 16, had begun “a new life,” a month before the anniversary of the 2018 destruction.

The house has “a kitchen with all facilities plus indoor toilets and bathrooms, all with electricity and water,” said his wife.

The elderly couple, who live in the low-lying village of Manalur, were literally left on the streets when the rain returned with a vengeance. “The roof above us just washed way. We could only look on helplessly,” said Velaydudhan.

Overflowing rivers ploughed through residential areas when authorities opened some 14 dams after ever-worsening rain lashed the state from Aug. 8-15, 2018. Bridges and roads were washed away. The government estimated the total destruction at $2.85 billion.

Velaydudhan and wife were among 1 million people who were evacuated to temporary camps in the state, said Father Thomas Poopadi, director of Santhwanam (support), the social service wing of Thrissur Archdiocese.

Thrissur district, covered by the archdiocese, was one of the most affected areas, where the Church spearheaded the recuse and rehabilitation service, said Father Poopadi.

The social service departments of all 32 dioceses in Kerala worked together to mobilize some 200,000 volunteers to assist the flood-affected in the various phrase of rescue, relief and restoration interventions, said Father George Vettikattil of Kerala Social Service Forum.

The forum, a coordinating body Catholic charity efforts in the state, helped 269,000 families, spending $45 million in flood rehabilitation projects.

The money came from several European agencies as well as Indian companies, religious houses, dioceses and ordinary parishioners across the country. 

“People were generous because the devastation was shocking,” the priest said.

There were 1,766 new homes built for victims like Velayudhan, at a cost per dwelling of US $8,500, although some are yet to be completed because work was delayed due to government approvals. Church agencies also repaired a further 7,024 homes. 

“Religion was never a selection criterion. Most beneficiaries were selected in collaboration with government agencies and with their approval,” the priest said.

Caritas India, the Catholic social service agency, carried out projects worth US $4 million, mostly to help people rebuild their lives.

One of Caritas’ projects was to sponsor goats to help unemployed women generate income. The project sponsors $215 to buy three goats. A year later they have to give a lamb back to the diocese.

Kumari Rajesh with one of the three goats she bought thanks to a church agency as part of its rehabilitation assistance to flood-affected poor people in Kerala. (Photo by Thomas Christopher)

Kumari Rajesh, 28, became a beneficiary of the project after her family was affected by flooding in in the village of Kodamukku.  

“I got them five months ago,” said the mother of two primary school children. “Hopefully I will soon be able to sell the milk and work for myself.

“I will certainly give back a lamb so that they can donate it to another deserving person.” 

Another villager, Kunjumol, 65, also received a loan and bought three goats. “But one of them just died two days ago,” she said, adding that she was not worried. “We have insurance for the goats, so we will get some compensation but I feel so bad. The goat was like a member of my family.”

Her husband, P. Velayudhan, is unhappy, however, that they don’t have money to repair their damaged home.

“Two goats are not enough to fix the cracked walls that leak water into their tiny, dingy bedroom after a light drizzle,” her husband P. Velayudhan, who coughs non-stop.

“The government has almost abandoned us,” he said in between coughs, adding that his poor health prevents him doing any arduous work. 
“Some officials came and asked us questions but we got none of the benefits the government promised in the media,” he added.

Velayudhan stands leaning against the wall of his new house that was funded by a church group. (Photo by Thomas Christopher)

The state claims to have built or repaired 247,000 houses but a church source said they included those funded by charity organizations and various religious groups, such as Caritas.
Several religion-based organizations have also participated in rehabilitation projects and are collaborating with the government.

“In fact, beneficiaries were also selected from the government list. Therefore, the houses we funded are also probably counted in the government list,” said a priest social worker, who asked not to be identified.

Meanwhile, the selection process does not worry Velayudhan and his wife, who have their new house.

“I had no place of my own. Now I have a decent house,” he said smiling broadly as he sat in his new portico, that still reflects his every move.

“Why should I worry about the selection process? I’m grateful to everyone.”

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