The Kerala Floods of 2018 were the worst disaster that the ‘God’s Own Country’, as the state is dubbed for its natural beauty and pristine backwaters, had seen in 100 years. The speed and force of the floods were overwhelming.
As per the official count, over 400 people were left dead and 4.5 lakh people were evacuated. All 14 districts of the state were placed on high alert. According to the Kerala Government, one-eighth of the total population of Kerala had been directly affected by the floods and related incidents. The Union Government declared this devastation on the Level 3 Calamity. Survival became a struggle as hospitals, schools, any kind of place where the common people could seek refuge were waterlogged and homes were flooded.
As the disaster unfolded, while there were stories of devastation, there were also inspiring acts of selflessness and inspiration. 81 year old Ahmed had been living alone in his village in Wayanad ever since his sons moved with their families to Bengaluru. As he cannot see properly, his neighbours took care of him and helped him move around. Alone at his home when the flood waters came gushing, Ahmed was terrified. His house was damaged and he had to live in a temporary shelter for days. He was scared all the time, and unable to sleep at all. It was his neighbours once again who came to his aid, not leaving him alone, and sharing whatever little provisions they had with him.
Eight months since the disaster, flood-affected communities in Kerala are continuing to rebuild their lives and have emerged stronger. Smile Foundation’s Disaster Response Team was on the ground right at the onset of the floods in the second week of August 2018 and is now working with the phase of rebuilding.
When the Smile Foundation Disaster Response Team reached Wayanad, one of the worst affected districts, the scale of the devastation became apparent as the communication and transportation services had been disrupted with people unable to reach out for any kind of help. The tribal communities in the district were the worst affected and needed immediate support with shelter, food and drinking water. Kerala is largely dependent on water wells. With the flood water-level being several feet high, the water in the wells got contaminated with waste and debris, rendering them unsafe.
A detailed assessment by the Disaster Response team identified water contamination as one of the major challenges for the affected communities, which could have led to an outbreak of water-borne diseases. Hence, the first priority of the team was to mobilize safe drinking water, along with dry and packaged food.
When the Smile Foundation Disaster Relief team started, they started with a few volunteers but as the days passed the numbers rose with more and more of the youth joining in the rehabilitation process. Kerala was united and nothing could stop them! “People had lost their jobs, their houses and some of them had even lost their families. But they had the conviction to put things right and the heart to extend help. The volunteers helped us at every step, be it in communicating collection points across to others or helping us in procuring stuff, or lifting or packing the relief material. They became our biggest motivation”, shares Uttam Kumar, part of Smile Foundation’s Disaster Response Team.
The local volunteers and Smile team worked day and night to help fellow survivors. Many of the volunteers had suffered losses themselves, but it did not deter them from helping others. The target was to reach as many people as possible, and the team was bent on achieving it, wading through knee-deep water and carrying loads of packaged water and food. Since the usage of any kind of transportation was not possible, boats were used to transport relief material to the people who were cut-off from all access to a basic necessity. Approximately 1000 households and 5000 people were reached in more than 16 villages in Wayanad district. 2796 families were provided with food packets and relief kits at various places.
In a post-flood situation, communities face several health-related risks ranging from break down of the medical services to potential outbreak of epidemics. Children, women, and elders become especially vulnerable in such situations. In Kerala, a breakout of malaria, diarrhoea and leptospirosis, which are the most common diseases triggered by floods, was the biggest fear of the state health officials. With the health infrastructure severely damaged, help poured in from neighbourhood states and several non-governmental organisations.
Joining in the efforts, Smile Foundation deployed health camps and mobile hospitals to provide basic health check-ups, medical diagnosis, pathological test facilities, and free of cost medicines to the affected families. Finding doctors who could understand the local language was major challenge, but with the help of the community volunteers, doctors were identified and once word had spread, many medical practitioners volunteered their services at the camps. A total of 52 health camps were conducted in Alleppey, Kozhikode and Wayanad, benefitting over 8500 people.
Rehabilitation activities were carried out in 10 selected schools of Alleppey. Computers, tables, chairs, Student desks, books for the school library and uniforms were distributed.
Even though the state’s health infrastructure is back on its feet now, it continues to be out of reach for many less-privileged families who live on the fringes of the city and have little or no access to government and private health facilities.
To address this need, Smile health camps and mobile hospitals continue to provide services in the flood-affected regions. Further, there is a need to educate people on the after-effects of such disasters and how they can keep themselves safe. Thus, along with health camps, interactive activities and discussions are being held to spread awareness among communities.
More than 5,000 families have benefitted from rehabilitation interventions, as many more continue to receive primary healthcare services. This was made possible through the overwhelming support of the people and organisations. The volunteers were the heroes who braved the odds to come to the rescue of their fellow men setting a great example of unity and solidarity. The invaluable contribution of our partners-in-change – TransUnion, Worley Parsons, Urban Craft, Logitech, R1RCM, S&P Global, FIS, FMC, Yum!, SBI Life, Transworld, Urbancraft, Mahindra Partners was instrumental in reaching out to those most in need with crucial support and care.