Cyclone Ockhi should be a lesson learned for Kerala with its lengthy coastline. The 557km coast on the state's west is thickly populated. Most of them depend on the sea for their livelihood.
The cyclone and the following turbulence in the sea have devastated the coastal communities. The sea became even more dangerous because the cyclone formed gigantic waves when the sea was in high tide. The cyclone made the sea rougher than the seasonal turbulence. The sea advanced several meters to the coast and damaged houses and valuable articles, sometimes swathes of beaches.
The devastation has prompted two questions. How to reconstruct the sectors laid waste by the sea? How to save Kerala's coast from a similar assault by the sea?These questions couple with apprehensions that the Coastal Regulation Zone Act could pose problems for the rehabilitation of the sector.
The most important link in a coastal ecosystem is the people. The CRZ Act was formed with an intention to safeguard their livelihood. Houses and other buildings can be constructed along the coastal areas only subject to strict conditions and scrutiny. People in the coastal areas will have to go through much hardships if they are required to wait for months for approval to rebuild their houses torn down by the waves.
The authorities have to roll out a scheme for the rebuilding of the coastal sector and arrange Lok Adalats by coastal authorities at the district level to grant sanction for construction activities. Many of the genuine problems could be settled in a couple of sittings.
The authorities could also explore the possibility of building apartments for those whose houses have been lost, as they did in Vizhinjam. The coastal regulation has authority had given special sanction for the Greater Mumbai slum rehabilitation program, taking into consideration the unique situation.
Kerala is also eligible for special consideration as Cyclone Ockhi was an extraordinary event.
This is high time to explore permanent solutions for the woes of the coast. It is common for the sea to advance in the monsoon and retreat later but scientific studies have identified places where the sea is particularly furious. We need scientific measures to save those areas.
Many stretches of beaches in Kerala have stonewalls to reduce the impact of the waves. In many cases, they have only led to increased attacks on adjoining areas. We have to look at studies to make them more scientific and device comprehensive projects to save the coasts.
If the CRZ Act stands in the way of these projects, the Kerala government could approach the Union government for relief.
(The writer is the atmospheric process group leader at the Center for Earth Science Studies in Thiruvananthapuram and a former member-secretary of the Kerala State Council for Science Technology and Environment)