(This is the second part of a series investigating the floods and related issues of Kuttanad. Read the first part here)
The 24 families living in Kochuthara colony at the second ward of Edathua village panchayat of Alappuzha district have set up a community kitchen on the road, a few metres away from their settlement. Their houses have been flooded.
Rice and other provisions had been provided from a Maveli Store, run by the state government. They had to purchase vegetables with the money they pooled in in the morning.
In the evening, they would wade through the waters to reach their homes and where they would sleep on cots elevated using bricks.
Life has been like this for them for over the past six months as frequent flooding is the new normal for the Kuttanad region, known as the rice bowl of Kerala. Since late April, the colony has been flooded several times intermittently. Every time, a flood occurs, the area remains submerged for days. In many other villages of Kuttanad, the story sounds similar.
"Since April, we have been living like this. When there is a lull for the rain, the flood water will drain away in a few days. Again, when the rain comes, our houses get flooded. This is the eighth or ninth flood we are witnessing this year," Chellamma, a resident of the colony, said.
Venu, another resident of the colony, said the flood situation in the area became worse after the 2018 deluge. "Our life has become an endless struggle. The officials cite many reasons for the frequent floods. What can the poor people here do about it," he said.
Venu, however, cited a more specific reason for the frequent flooding in the region, where he has been living for the past 58 years. He said if there was a second round of farming in the paddy fields surrounding the colony, the situation would have been much better. This is true in many areas of Kuttanad.
The evidence is visible from the areas where the farmers have opted for the second round of paddy farming. When there is farming in a cluster of paddy fields, the farmers build strong bunds (outer walls) surrounding the fields. This prevents floodwater from entering the fields and the settlements next to them. On the other hand, when the farmers decide not to go for a second round, they don't care much about maintaining the outer walls, leaving the areas open to floods. The decision on whether to go for the second round of farming is taken by the local committees known as Padasekhara Samithis. They take a decision considering several factors, including weather patterns and market risks.
There is a strong viewpoint among a section of the residents of the Kochuthara colony that the apathy of the farmers, who own the paddy fields surrounding the settlements, was largely responsible for their plight. "The farmers are given enough monetary aid by the government to do farming, but still they are not doing it," one of them said.
The farmers have their own arguments, but the fact is that the inconsistency in the timing of farming in the paddy fields of Kuttanad has resulted in what the experts call the non-compliance of the crop calendar. This is identified as a major reason for the flood situation in the entire Kuttanad.
"The region-specific conditions stipulate that sowing and harvesting should be done simultaneously in Kuttanad. However, the farmers are unable to follow such a crop calendar these days. Due to erratic rainfalls, farmers are often unable to harvest on time," R Sanjeev, scientist and site-in-charge of M S Swaminathan Research Foundation, said. He said permanent structures, serving as outer bunds, around all paddy field clusters are a must for controlling the flood situation in Kuttanad.
Jeemon, the panchayat member who represents the ward comprising Kochuthara colony, said at least Rs 2 lakh is needed immediately for building the outer bunds across the 400-acre Puthenvarambinakam cluster surrounding the colony. He said areas like the Puthuval colony in his ward have also been experiencing similar problems and urged authorities to provide funds for elevating the land.