Introduction / Executive Summary
Kuttanad is nestled between the foothills of the Western Ghats in the east and the relatively elevated plains of coastal Alappuzha in the west, and lies below sea level. Floods affect Kuttanad when water levels in four rivers – the Pampa, Achenkoil, Manimala and Meenachil – rise during monsoon.
Lake encroachments, unscientific construction of roads, bridges and culverts, silting and aggressive spread of waterweeds block free flow of water, resulting in flooding to water logging.
Lying below sea level, Kuttanad witnessed the historic evacuation of 1.5 lakh people in August 2018, when the torrential rains threatened their normal lives.
Due to such high rainfall, there was an absence of appreciable storage in reservoirs upstream, along with the shrinkage of carrying capacities of lakes, rivers, and the porous land. The limited capacity of Vembanad Lake and Thottappally Spillways worsened the flooding in the Kuttanad region and the backwaters. Many areas were submerged under water for more than two weeks.
Many people lost their houses in the 2018 flood. Considering the need for rehabilitation in the housing sector of Kuttanad, this project is an attempt to address the housing needs in a scientific way. The houses built under this project will withstand the yearly repeated floods and also does not cause the flood causing block of water flow and wetland devastation.
The major occupation in Kuttanadu is farming, with rice the most important agricultural product. This activity gives the area its moniker of “The Rice Bowl of Kerala”.
Kuttanad is geographically a unique zone. It is the broad wetland zone situated around the Vembanad Lake system. The land currently includes about 54935 hectares of paddy fields.
Annual saltwater incursions were not only permitted but considered essential to the soil fertility management as well as the ecosystem balance and biodiversity conservation in the area.
In the past few decades, paddy cultivation has become highly uneconomical in Kuttanad. The cost of cultivation has increased tremendously. The required labour force has become scanty, and the cost of labour has become quite high. Many of the enterprising farmers have left the place, and their fields are either remaining fallow or are given to others on a lease. As per a research estimate, only 60% of the paddy fields in Kuttanad are cultivated now, and about 11% of the land remains as cultivable wastelands, whereas the others continue as uncultivated.
The two crucial developmental issues, which are still affecting people in Kuttanad are ‘Drinking Water availability’ and ‘health amenities’. At the same time, the issues such as the need of land availability for housing, road availability, and better water transport and more employment opportunities remain significant issues still today. The preference of people for roads over water transport in the waterlogged Kuttanad reveals the ecological ignorance of people, because the construction of roads, which often causes reclamation and the consequent blocking of waterways, is not an environmentally feasible developmental activity in the area.
In Kerala, living with water is brought into practice in the Vembanad Lake system and the Kuttanad wetlands. The conditions in these areas can be further improved through flood-safe housing, built mounts, reclaimed land from the kayals, or higher embankments. Living with water is also practiced in eco-tourism through houseboats. In keeping with the principles of living with water, it must be clear
to people that extreme flood levels may occasionally occur and housing must be adapted accordingly.
Objectives of this project are:
- To provide flood resistant housing for families at Kuttanad who are affected by flood every year and are not capable of constructing house themselves (as verified through local agencies) with the support of funding agencies.
- Train capable local people in the technologies adoptable for disaster resistance and sustainable housing in their locality.
- To promote housing technologies and materials which are ideal for Kuttanad and has low or no impact to the environment.