Kerala Deluge: Dilemma of Long-term Recovery
| Prof. Santosh Kumar, Ph.D - 13 Sep 2018

Kerala Deluge: Dilemma of Long-term Recovery

By Dr. Santosh Kumar

Mr. and Mrs Joseph, in Pathnamthitta,  are too much stressed out. They are busy as they are  engaged in cleaning of their house after the flood. As their children are settled in the US they all have to manage their things on their own. Currently, they are staying with relatives and occasionally they also go to the relief camp to get some food items for their survival. They lost their bed, blankets, freeze, washing machines , furniture, Quilt, utensils and all the electronic items in the flood. They do not have their cloths for day to day wearing with them.  It’s a tough time for them. They are not sure about how much time will it take in making their house livable again. All household items have floated out from their house. They said when flood water gushed in and its level started rising inside the house they kept all the valuables, gas stove, kitchen set, boxes of cloths on the dining table for  safety. But after one day, everything was floating. Water level came up to their ceiling level. Watermark is still visible. We encountered similar stories in the entire affected districts. No doubts, they have good house but it is truly in bad shape to live. After the devastation, Kerala has to stand up again but the task is enormous. The recovery process has to be started soon. Thanks to media for providing suggestions to the state government to be taken for the rapid and durable recovery. Long –term disaster recovery is a huge challenge for any state or any nation. It is not so simple as we recommend various things for implementation simultaneously in a complex post disaster scenario.   Socially, economically and politically Kerala and its people both are very vibrant. How disaster happened? Why has it happened? Who did what ?who is responsible for the devastation? Was it a natural or man-made disaster? Understandably, many would be blamed. The working Agencies might go in defensive mode and also feel demoralized. The same agencies have to work tirelessly for immediate, intermediate and long term recovery and rehabilitation. Restoring life to normalcy is a herculean task. But this is the time to rise to the occasion. Beyond all these questions, recovery has to happen, people’s lives have to be brought to the normal. They have lost their lifetime earnings, moveable and immovable assets in just five days. Many of them might not even have trace or clue where are they?

The impact of flood disaster is huge and the entire data are yet to come. But if we take data of India today (September 3,2018 issue) and the Hon’ble CM of Kerala estimated money needed for the long term recovery is almost Rs. 20000 crores of rupees. This means the damage  from different sectors may be near to that..Its interesting to note that the loss due to disasters is static as well as dynamic. Loss to the infrastructure leading to revenue loss( indirect loss) on a daily basis( revenue /income loss to the govt. and private sector) this cost would keep on increasing on a daily basis  until it is restored. Many additional cost would also  be added, if resilient recovery( build back better) is being planned. The revenue receipts of the State are 75,611.72 crore in 2016-17. State’s own taxes are the main source of revenue receipts of the State. In 2016-17, contribution from State’s own taxes was 42176.38 crore which constitutes 55.78 per cent of the total revenue collection. During this period, contributions from the share of central taxes and grants was 23735.36 crore and State’s own non-tax revenue was 9699.98 crore. We need to see that how these gets intact or get affected due to disaster where tertiary sector(IT, Real estate, Insurance, tourism, transportation and banking) got affected seriously which alone contributes 63.14 percent of the total state domestic product followed by secondary sector 25.59 and primary sector 11.27. (Economic survey, Govt. of Kerala)

The Government has to come forward and accept the challenges and immediately initiate extraordinary efforts for quick recovery. People are in distress and complete disarray. State should stand behind them and get back to the business of innovative planning for faster recovery. Country has faced such problems in the past too. It took time but they could recover well. Maharashtra(1993), Andhra Pradesh (1997, 2001)  Orissa (1999), Gujarat(2001), Tamil Nadu (2005, 2015) , Andman & Nicobar (2004), Jammu & Kashmir ( 2005, 2015), Bihar (2008)  Utarrakhand( 2015) and few more states  have gone through the process of long term recovery earlier. Few states have taken partial recovery with few sectors approach and some have gone for full recovery with all sectors approach with significant recovery. Prioritizing recovery need is the immediate requirement for the state. 

Kerala,(population density of 860/ is one of the most progressive states of the country, with high per capita income(Rs.128347- higher than the national average of Rs.82269, high life expectancy (77 years) and high literacy rate(94%). It is a model state for human development index(0.79) , gender equity, sex ratio( 1084 females per 1000 males), and its development story is being emulated by many states of the country. The deluge of the state  now may  be converted into an opportunity and a new model of disaster recovery can be established. Gujarat long-term recovery programme was considered as one of the best models and was conferred with UN Sasakava Award and World Bank green award.  After Gujarat 2001, there have been many new innovations across the globe that can also be stitched together for planning a long term recovery framework  for the state of Kerala.

So the pertinent question is what is to be done now? Knowing the task in hand is much more appropriate. Recovery planning has to be done by going step by step in a time bound manner. And, for making a recovery plan we need to know the extent of damage first. Damage, loss assessment and setting priorities ( need) of recovery should be the top priority .On the basis of the loss assessment, the recovery plan needs to be developed soon. Build Back Better is the priority (and rational also) in the global recovery discourse. When any state/country is planning for recovery, first and foremost thing to be done is to have a state policy that not to rebuild the risk again. So every reconstruction has to have a disaster resilient feature ( as per the exposure of risks) . Disaster recovery has to be inclusive, resilient and better than before (say stronger). But at this stage, it is important to integrate humanitarian relief (essentials for survival-water, food, shelter, sanitation, hygiene, security etc.), intermediate restoration of basic services and then long term reconstruction and asset recovery.Still even after 15 days, 3.5 lacs of people are living in the relief camps. It is really noteworthy that Hon’ble Chief Minister of Kerala in his interview to Economic Times has emphasized and given assurance that the entire recovery exercise is going to be the model disaster recovery programme of the country.

The World Bank report, “unbreakable” has argued while unfolding Building Back Better as about long-term recovery- inclusive, faster and stronger. Many countries (149) have been analyzed here and if they implement this concept it would reduce global well being losses by 31.2 percent from US $ 555 billion to  US $382 billion .The reconstruction is an opportunity to upgrade their destroyed assets with more resilient and modern features addressing current and future needs with higher productivity.

It is going to be  a huge disaster recovery program  (12 out of 14 districts are affected with flood) if we go by the initial assessment or guesstimate of loss of Rs. 20000 corers approx ( reported in media many times). The process for undertaking relief, immediate recovery and long term recovery is important to keep in mind. Govt of Kerala should immediately set up an agency, may be under SDMA of which CM is the Chairman, which can implement and monitor the multi sectoral recovery program well. Institutional arrangements have to be done which would completely focus on the recovery process. Senior officers could be deployed for the execution of the projects to the dedicated body (PMU- Project Management Unit) for disaster recovery.  An exercise of the post disaster damage, loss and need assessment, may be with the support of national Institutes, international, bilateral or multilateral agencies, be carried out and be finished so that state will have a clear road ahead plan of action. Each sector by the time would submit its recovery plan to the main body, which would further plan for its execution. Govt would make arrangements for its funding and set up priorities accordingly.

In India, disaster recovery have been funded by the states government’s own budget, central govt support, cess, new tax, loan from multi lateral organizations- World Bank, ADB and some other grant in aid given by bi-lateral support, international and national NGOs, civil society groups, private sector etc. Some financial tools could be used as Tax benefits, prolonged EMI on the loans, cheap money policy , Insurance , Insurance pooling amongst the state/countries.

Currently, in Kerala the local market is lull, shops are closed, for small business groups require to spend  Rs. 10-20 lacs on average for restoring their shops and to roll down the business. The procurements for meeting the demand of affected people who are in relief camps are largely happening outside the state and hence local market is not picking up. Small scale industries, handicraft and tourism have to be revived as quickly as possible.


This is time or opportunity to introduce some of the new products and making investment in disaster management planning. Dam and reservoir management, setting up of early warning system, flood risk modeling, setting up of State Disaster Response Force, capacity building of their officials on disaster risk reduction, improvement in construction technology of housing and infrastructure(especially for Alappy and other low line areas) , creation of all weather infrastructure , strong warning dissemination equipments, strong emergency response system with community and fisherman focus should be taken as priority for risk reduction . We may have to make ex-ante investment as part of the recovery plan mandatorily as non negotiable items. The Gadgil committee and Kasturirangan committee reports should be made handy to everyone to usher the state into a new era of development.


Short –term impact of Disaster of 2018 might be gradually getting reduced but long term impact is rising everyday due to indirect losses (revenue loss) . God forbid, the danger of getting struck again is not over yet. Climate change has made it more uncertain and impending disaster maybe of high intensity. Strong disaster response system, development of flood inundation, cyclone and other risk modeling of the state are required so that it can be predicted with much confidence about the areas likely to be affected and the population impacted.

(Writer Dr. Santosh Kumar is Professor & Head, Governance and Inclusive DRR Division, National Institute of Disaster Management, Ministry of Home Affairs, Govt of India. He can be reached at -

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