The Deluge: Kerala Has A Right to Global Compensation

Date:

Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan interacts with the flood-affected people at a relief camp in Ernakulam on August 11, 2018. — PT

S Faizi

NEW DELHI –– The unprecedented floods in Kerala that played havoc, causing 360 deaths and damages estimated to the tune of Rs 20000 crores (about 3 billion), is a direct result of the global warming. This man-made calamity was predicted by the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in its 2007 report.

As predicted by the IPCC the number of rainy days were less and the volume of precipitation far greater than the normal average. Uninterrupted rains lashed most of the state from 9 to 15 August, which was over 257 per cent of the normal rainfall this period in the past years. And this unending rain was falling on a soil that was already soaked by rains that started on June 1 which was already in excess of the normal by 41 per cent.

The carrying capacities of the water bodies to hold the run off water were also exhausted. As for the aquifers, their recharge capacity is only between 8 to 14 per cent of the rainfall during normal rains. The rain on August 15 was an unbearable 130mm against 10mm average of the previous years’ on the same day.

The flood cannot be attributed to any loss of  forest cover as Kerala has a forest and tree cover of 23280 sq kms which is 60 per cent of the terrestrial area of the state, in comparison with the 21.54 per cent forest coverage of India, as reported by the latest  report on forests in the country by the Forest Survey of India (FSI) in 2017. Its State of India Forest Report 2017 also mentions a net gain in forest coverage by 1043 sq km in Kerala during the reporting period, although this increase may be due to commercial plantations.

For a critic of the FSI methodology, it has to be borne in mind that their methodology is uniform for all the states, and that we don’t have alternative assessments available. Obviously, those who are relating the flood to forest loss is undermining the gravity of the impact of global warming.

As for the water bodies in the forest districts, the state has actually expanded its spread by 71 sq kms during the decade of 2005-15, the new FSI report records. Obviously, the local environmental factors hardly had any influence in the making of the tragedy. There are cases of stone mining in some parts of the state but that cannot be attributed to the deluge as some tend to argue. The sheer volume of the precipitation inundated the entire landscape, and wrought landslides.

With the atmosphere having over 400 parts per million warming gases, the highest ever in the past three million years, IPCC has predicted an escalation in the numbers and intensity of extreme climate events. The 100 year cycle of floods would change to 4-5 years. And the Kerala deluge is one more proof.

Kerala is suffering due to the carbon dioxide build up in the atmosphere in the making of which we have no role. The average per capita emission of the US  is 16.4 metric tonnes while India’s  only 1.6 metric tonnes, Kerala’s average is significantly less. The countries that have caused the global warming therefore have a responsibility to compensate Kerala based on the principles of ‘polluter pays’ and ‘common but differential responsibility’ enshrined in international law.

With the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change projecting the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere the lethal 55 gigatonnes in the year 2030, it is important for the global South to stand together with Kerala to elicit this compensation.

 

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