Kerala has faced a 46 per cent deficit in monsoon rainfall this season, with most reservoirs running worryingly low. However, yesterday the state's Disaster Management Authority issued Red Alerts for certain districts, on consecutive dates, indicating that extremely heavy rainfall is "very likely".
Specifically, Idukki and Malappuram districts have Red Alerts for three days starting July 18, Wayanad and Kannur received similar warnings for July 19 and Ernakulam for July 20. The situation will be reviewed tomorrow around noon after the met department has fresh data.
People living in alerted districts have been advised to keep small emergency kits handy and cooperate with district officials if asked to evacuate. Officials have also been asked to move people living in transient shelters or incompletely constructed homes to camps to ensure their safety.
"We would not have had to issue red alerts if it was only heavy or very heavy rainfall. But we are expecting extremely heavy rainfall for consecutive days in certain districts, and that's where the concern lies," Sekhar Kuriakose, Member-Secretary for the disaster management agency told NDTV.
For reference, the Indian Meteorological Department relies on a four-level, colour-coded warning system to advise on the severity of rainfall. These levels are Green (low to medium rain), Yellow (isolated heavy rain), Orange (isolated heavy to very heavy) and Red. Each of these colour codes advises on level of action to be taken, ranging from No Action to Take Action.
For Red Alert areas, district collectors have been told to take precautionary measures, including evacuating people from vulnerable areas or areas that witnessed flooding or landslides in last year's floods.
Consecutive Red Alerts for Idukki district has meant special provisions have been made for the area.
"We have issued advice to other districts also, but Collector of Idukki has been asked not to move out of the headquarters. Malappuram doesn't have the same amount of vulnerability like Idukki, in terms of topography. Idukki was very badly hit last year's monsoon. Around 131 people died due to landslides in Kerala last year, and majority of them were from Idukki," Mr Kuriakose explained.
The state has also mapped household-level vulnerabilities in critical districts with help of the Geological Survey Of India. As many as 300 out of 800 such houses are Idukki district, say officials.
After last year's floods, the worst in nearly a century, specific protocols were put in place for 30 government departments. For example, satellite phones have been distributed to district collectors to guard against communications breakdown.
According to Mr Kuriakose, it is important to note that shorts bursts of heavy rain do not mean Kerala no longer faces water scarcity issues. The lack of reservoirs and the nature of soil, topography, in many parts of the state mean most rain water is simply washed away.