By Kalyani Mahesh


 A rescue plan has to be implemented for facing any kind of crisis without being caught in the zone of unpreparedness. And through detailed analysis the field investigators must make sure that the dam is of firm foundation that it is fit for seismic defined parameters. Yet at times, it may lead to act of God that will eventually lead to a disaster.

 Any dam project if not provided and designed using proper principles after detailed investigation with respect to geological, hydrological and seismic factors should be taken into consideration or it would result in unforeseen circumstances which will ultimately lead to a human catastrophe.

 A disaster is something that happens spontaneously and can’t be predetermined which commences into heavy loss and damage over the life and property which at times is caused due to inevitable accident and also by human error. In addition to identifying and differentiating of all these kinds of disasters that are due to the study of similar kinds of situations in the past incidents or throw mass the progression of plans dwells upon various aspects such as provision of evacuation paths, setting of alarms warning systems, implementation and establishment of communication system and alarm system that trace emergency response organizations with effective response organization. So that it is to be noted that the aftermath of a disaster can lead to loss of human and animal life, loss of property and beyond mental ecological imbalance in and around areas that are affected. Therefore the field of investigators have to properly formulate a contingent   rescue plan and also pay attention  to assess the possibility of such failures.


Aspects dealt with here are: Disaster, Hazard, Vulnerability, Capacity, Risk and Disaster Management cycle. The Chapter also tries to explain various types of disasters. The concepts explained here helps to enhance your knowledge and skill so as anthropological comprehension of natural hazards.


The global context

Human population has encountered many a disaster in the human history but a hike in the events in the recent past has become a cause of deep concern at the national and international level. The country had faced a number of natural and anthropologically originated hazards over the past decade. A rise in the reported disasters from 428 per year to 707 from 1994 -1999 is an astonishing and discouraging fact.

Drought and famine have proved to be disastrous during the period of 1992-2001 globally which succeeded flood, technological disaster, earthquake, windstorm, extreme temperature etc. The loss that was incurred globally amounted to an average of around 880 billion dollars per year.

It is very much possible that Kerala has a greater vulnerability towards the vagaries of environment and shifting dynamics of climate. The peculiar location and topography which is in proximity to the sea and change in altitude along the Western Ghats are the underlying causes for the same.

There are 39 types of disasters and recorded hazard types which may turn disastrous if there is lack of readiness and risk reduction planning as per Kerala’s State Disaster Management Plan, 2016.It is largely response oriented as far as Disaster Management is concerned.

 A lot of information is prepared by the State and District levels on hazards but are strong in vulnerability and capacity assessment. The plans are weak in mitigation and do not have strategies for streamlining Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) across the main areas. All the stakeholders are brought together by the Government of Kerala and it enables the private sector, NGOs, and the General Public to join the recovery efforts. By general public response to the hazardous and disastrous situation by the people was overwhelming all over. And people had expressed strength of solidarity and spirit of voluntarism that has to be harnessed for recovery and reconstruction. As a part of rescrutinisation of our development, priority is to be attributed for its ecological implications and social ramifications. In order to restore normalcy the Central, State and Local governments have to play special roles which may help in restoring services, reconstructing houses and in supporting local economic recovery and public services. It also has to help in restoring resilient Kerala.

The United Nations defines disaster as the occurrence of sudden or major misfortune and it affects the fundamental fabric and usual functioning of the various sections of the society. Section 2 (d) of DM act 2005 defines disaster as a catastrophe, mishap, calamity or grave occurrence in any area, arising from natural or manmade causes, or by accident or any kind of carelessness leads to the loss of human life and severe injury to property and environment at large. Occurrences of these states of affairs have exceeded beyond tolerance with a greater effect of the magnitude of flood deluge in Kerala, a state that is highly vulnerable to natural disasters and vagaries of environment. And this is due to the proximal sea cost and a steep gradient across the Western Ghats. The 39 types of disastrous hazards as per KSDMA 2016 can well be analyzed as given below:

Table.1 Area vulnerable to hazards   in Kerala

HazardsNo of taluksSusceptible area(km2)Population exposed
Coastal hazards24289.7313205

Source: KSDMA, 2016

Following heavy rains over the first week of August floods are becoming an annual affair causing a death toll far beyond imagination and 12140 injured people with many more people who are reported missing, feared trapped under mud and debris at Kavalappara in Malappuram District and Puthumala.

What is a hazard? How is it classified?

The word “Hazard” originated from “hasard” in old French language and “az-zahr” in Arabic means ‘chance’ or ‘luck’.

It can be categorized as follows:-

1. Natural (caused by natural phenomena)

  • Earthquake:-The most dangerous natural hazard which occurs suddenly or at times with a slight warning that can kill everything within a blink of an eye. It not only causes destruction but also de stabilizes the whole structure including the inhabitants to the social structure of the country. But what are really Earthquakes? The sudden shaking of the earth’s crust which makes it hard to predict.

The main causes of earthquakes fall into five categories:

1.  Volcanic Eruptions

2.  Tectonic Movements

3.  Geological Faults

4.  Man made

5. Minor Causes

  • Tsunami:-The word owes its origin from the Japanese word ‘Tzu’ means ‘harbor’ and ‘nami’ means ‘waves’, popularly known as tidal waves but in fact it has nothing to do with the tides. These waves affect distant shore which is originated by the rapid displacement of water from the lake or sea either by seismic activity, landslides, volcanic eruption or large meteorite impacts. And the sea water is displaced with a violent motion and swells up that results in surging over with great destruction and effects may be destructive as well as unnoticeable.
  • Cyclone:-In meteorological words, it is the rotation of volume of air in the low atmospheric pressure. They are also responsible for tornadoes and hurricanes.

Types of cyclones are tropical cyclones, extra tropical cyclones, mid-latitude cyclones etc.

  • Flood:-The overflow of water through a river channel or the coast which ultimately results in inundation of the land where you have no choice to go because of the rise of water. It can occur in all depths from couple of inches to many feet. The causes of flood are broken levees or dams, repeated rainfall or slow moving rain etc. It can be deadly and remarkable. It can happen in a few minutes, hours, days, or over weeks but it is calamitous. Just six inches of water can knock a person off their feet. Just two feet of water can carry a car away.
  • Drought:-The condition in which an area receives less than the normal or adequate amount of rain which may be over months to years. It is natural event caused by El-Niño and other high pressure systems. Also diversion of rivers and deforestation can lead to drought. It is a calamity that takes place in slow pace but may last from months to years after the rain resumes.
  • Landslide:-The movement caused by rocks, soils or artificial fills or combination of all these along the surface of separation by falling, sliding, and flowing which might be quick from one to other. It can also be defined as downward or the upward movement of slope forming materials. The causes can be geologically weak material, erosion, heavy rainfall, human excavation etc.

2. Man made (happens due to human negligence)

And the list goes on and on .Most occurs frequently while other take place occasionally.

 Table 2 – Various types of hazards

Geological1.Earthquake 2.Tsunami 3.Volcanic Eruption4.Landslide 5.Dam burst 6.Mine fire
Water and climate1.Tropical cyclone 2.tornado and hurricane 3.floods 4.drought 5.Hailstorm6.cloudburst 7.Landslide 8.Heat and cold wave 9.snow avalanche 10.sea erosion
Environmental and biological1.Environmental pollution 2.Deforestation 3.Human / Animal Epidemics 4.Pest attacks5.Desertification 6.Pest Infection 7.Food poisoning 8.Weapons of Mass Destruction

What is Vulnerability?

Vulnerability may be defined as “The extent to which a community, structure, services or geographic area is likely to be damaged or

disrupted by the impact of particular hazard, on account of their nature, construction and proximity to hazardous terrains or a disaster prone area.”

Vulnerabilities can be categorized into physical and socio-economic vulnerability.

What is Risk?

Risk is a “measure of the expected losses due to a hazard event occurring in a given area over a specific time period. Risk is a

function of the probability of particular hazardous event and the losses each would cause.” 

Risk Elements of Kerala Flood


The most common of all the natural hazards that happened in Kerala is flood; it is becoming more frequent and severe. Another feasible threat is occurrence of droughts, landslides, storm surges, and tsunamis. Some risk drivers that accelerated the flood situation in 2018 are mentioned below.

1.   Extreme Rainfall

 The potential causes (heavy rain and reservoir operations) of floods have been of great debate because of the extreme State-wide rainfall in Kerala in August 2018.In the entire record of 117 years, the basin of the major reservoirs experienced unprecedented extreme rainfall in August 2018.There is no escaping fact that, these extreme rainfall in the waterside land had return periods much higher than state averaged heavy rain in Kerala (Misha et al, 2018).

As a matter of fact of the severe flooding most of the districts of the State were fatally affected. Moreover, the rainfall during the months of June, July, August (1st    19th) was upto 15% which increased upto 18% and 164% respectively which proved to be unusual in nature than the expected outcome.

Table.3 District Wise Rainfall realized during 1 June 2018 to 22 August 2018

DistrictNormal Rainfall(mm)Actual Rainfall(mm)Departure from NormalDeparture from Normal
Kerala State 1701.42394.141Excess  
Palakkad1321.72285.673Large Excess

2. Reservoir Storage

As per the report on 18th of August 2018 , the majority of reservoirs in Kerala had more than 90% of its capacity.

3. Poor Watershed Management


Loose soil not covered by vegetation,natural system loss and extraordinary high intensity of waterfall over a short period of time along the flood plains and poor management of hilly areas resulted in the landslides in hilly areas.The chaotic dumping of debris and deluge deposits in these rivers and lakes emanated the shrinking or narrowing of the carrying capacity and shoot up the flood deluge development.Kerala is a densely- populated state and various rivers of Kerala are extremely contaminated that has gone beyond control-which is in fact is due to the unredifined domestic outflow , and rural and agricultural runoff.

4. Environmental Degradation

Construction of buildings, deforestation and destruction of various ecological services of wetland has affected a few plains of swampland.

The lavish and luxurious use of or withdrawal of groundwater has reduced the inundation  into the marshland and wetlands which makes it deficient for sustainable fisheries, tourism, & transportation etc. Flooding in Kerala, as per the analysis from the recent landslides has helped us reach  a conclusion that excessive utilization of natural resources and deforestation, coastal storm gush due to rainstorm and soil piping and tunnel erosion stimulated the flood in recent years in India.

5. Sand Quarrying & Land Use

It is true that the state of Kerala had to bear with unsustainable sand quarrying in rivers and watersheds, lowering of water table, erosion on the banks of  various rivers and lakes and has also caused severe ecological imbalance and varied kinds of environmental problems.As a matter of fact, people dwelling in the coastal region were not given proper protection and care by building rock walls in order to protect the aggressive and destructive waves that tend to get more aggravated during the monsoons.Experts are also of the opinion that all these happen due to the poor knowledge and dwelling habits near the land.    

Constraints in Disaster Risk Reduction and Management


We have a largely response centric disaster management system in Kerala.Though weak in vulnerability and capacity assessment the disaster management plans prepared at the district and state levels enlighten us with the lot of information. It may also be noted that for mainstreaming disaster risk reduction across key sectors also stay weak in the aspect of mitigating the same.

Capacity building at institutional  level


Extreme events lead to suboptimal and ad-hoc response from one emergency to another leads to minimal anticipation of financial support.Emergency situations crop up one after the other so frequently that it becomes unbearable for the society.There is a dire need for precise management and co operation among government sectors involved to  please the management of agriculture, water, roads and waste management. It is highly essential at this juncture that the public sector and the private sector should join and work together for climate proofing and adaptation, green and resilient land planning, designing and value engineering techniques to reduce unexpected impact on environment and ecology.

Policy and planning


One of the lacunae that was observed and identified during the floods was inadequate spatial urban sectoral planning and lack of streamlining risk reduction steps that were expected to be taken well before the onset of the hazard.It is alleged that land use regulations are presently based on multiple divergent acts, orders and rules.Government possess a legal framework to manage disaster response, it is imperative to additionally mainstream and integrate DRM into various sector development strategies.


It is exposed mechanisms or budget reallocation that currently helps us manage financing rather than ex-ante insurance of public assets market based risk transfer etc. The state can draw finance for DRM activities primarily from its own budget or resources provided by the Government of India.It can also depend on external financing institutions and voluntary contributions.Kerala needs to further explore for financing options for DRM and DRR. As examples for the above Kerala has to explore catastrophe insurance,insurance linked safety net programs and other innovative insurance products to reduce the financial burden of the state itself.

Building Standards

The absence of risk informed planning non-compliance to building design standards and non-inclusion of resilient features in urban and semi-urban areas reaffirm the fact that flooding gets exacerbated in Kerala. In order to improve the long term sustenance it is better to incorporate flexible adaptive engineering and cost effective disaster resilient principles.It is the need of the hour to maximize the efficiency of scarce public investment.

Data Requirement

Insufficient database and mapping on hydrological systems and tools stand as an impediment to prevent forecasting, early warning and vast response.We have to see to it that there should be adoption of new technologies that are troubleshooters which can resolve the problems as a state of the art.The overall responsibility to tackle a disastrous situation can be implemented by adoption of smart technologies in utilities, early warning systems, setting up predictive tools, improved technology work for relief, evacuation plans  etc.This can improve the efficiency of delivery of public services during such catastrophes.

Adoption of integrated approach


Setting up of seminars, at the regional and sub-regional levels with the support of print and electronic media has to be organized wherein the members of parliament and legislative assemblies would play an important role in enhancing meaningful discussions for generating recreative ideas.In order to rebuild the locality, schools and colleges will have to be encouraged to work on college or school level projects.


The disasters that happened during August 2018 and 2019 were major disasters that shook the infrastructure and economy of Kerala awfully.The government of Kerala brings together all the stakeholders and enables the private sector, NGOs, and Kerala’s diaspora to join the recovery efforts.The response rendered by the society was equally overwhelming bringing out a strength of solidarity and the spirit of voluntarism that was almost creatively harnessed for recovery and reconstruction. It is expected that the role of central, state and local governments in restoring services, reconstructing houses, supporting local economic recovery and other public services will help a lot restoring normalcy in rebuilding a resilient state.


1.Govt. of India (2018),Centralwater Commission Study report, Kerala flood of August 2018, September 2018.

2.Govt. Of Kerala (2016), Kerala State Disaster Management Plan Profile, KSDMA, 2016

 3.Govt. Of Kerala (2018), Kerala Post Disaster Needs Assessment (PDNA) Floods and Landslides August 2018, October 2018

4.Mishra V, Shah H(2018), Hydro climatological Perspective of the Kerala Flood 2018, Journal of Geological Society of India, Volume 92, Issue 5, 511-650, doi:10.1007/s12594-0018-1079-3

5.Mishra, Vimal., Aadhar, Saran., Shah, harsh., Kumar, rahul., and Pattanaik, Dushmanta Ranjan(2018), The Kerala flood of 2018: combined impact of extreme rainfall and reservoir storage, Hydrol. Earth Syst.Sci. Discuss, https://doi.org/10.5194/hess-2008-480.

6.Mukherjee, S., Aadhar, S., Stone, D. and Mishra,V( 2017), Increase in extreme precipitation events under anthropogenic warming in India, Weather Climate Extreme.(July 2017), 45–53, doi: 10.1016/j.wace.2018.03.005, 2018.

 7.Shaji, K. A (2019), Is Climate Change Making Floods an Annual Affair in Kerala?, 14 August 2019 https:://thewire.in/environment/floods-in-kerala-experts-point-toclimate-change.




Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here