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Flood-ravaged Kerala seeks at least $1.4 billion loan for reconstruction

A volunteer cleans a house following floods on the outskirts of Kochi in the southern state of Kerala, India August 22, 2018. REUTERS/Sivaram V
A volunteer cleans a house following floods on the outskirts of Kochi in the southern state of Kerala, India August 22, 2018. REUTERS/Sivaram V

KERALA will seek to borrow more than Rs 100 billion ($1.4 billion) to finance reconstruction work after heavy rains claimed nearly 400 lives, its chief minister said yesterday (21).

The proposed loan is part of a special package that the southern Indian state, which estimates it has suffered damage of at least Rs 200bn , will seek from prime minister Narendra Modi’s government for rebuilding efforts, state chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan said.

Kerala will ask Modi’s government to raise the state’s borrowing ceiling to 4.5 per cent of its GDP from three per cent, which will help raise an additional Rs 105bn from the market, Vijayan said.

“Our aim is not merely a restoration of the state to pre-flood times, but the creation of a new Kerala,” Vijayan told reporters.

The worst floods in the state in a century claimed 383 lives, razed tens of thousands of homes, and washed away roads and bridges. Around 1.3 million are sheltering in thousands of relief camps.

Even as rescue efforts come to a halt across Kerala and focus shifts to relief, more than 3,000 people in a remote village located in an eco-sensitive area are angry with what they say is the apathy of forest officials in rescue and relief operations.

Villagers in Nelliyampathy, a remote hill station that has been isolated from the nearest town after its only road suffered heavy damage due to flooding and landslides, allege officials are restricting aid efforts by blocking locals and outsiders from bringing in food supplies.

Government engineers said the temporary restoration of road access will take another four days and that food supplies won’t be airlifted anymore, instead, being transported by volunteers and government staff.

Roads were found to be impassable and huge trees had fallen over them. Diesel and food supplies have to be carried to reach the point at which the road is accessible.

Volunteers at an aid distribution centre inside a stadium in Kochi, Kerala

“There is no way to communicate with the rest of the state as none of the mobile networks are working, bank and government officials have not turned up, and even our own people are being stopped from carrying food,” said K Girija, vice-president of the village administration, adding that multiple representations to the government had gone unanswered.

Asked why the forest department is restricting aid efforts, the district’s top-most administrative officer declined to comment.

“A system would be put in place to ensure sufficient food supplies and provide other amenities,” D Balamurali told Nelliyampathy villagers, as three helicopters descended to supply food.

Helicopters were used to transport pregnant women and cancer patients yesterday.

However, the villagers say the aid was coming too late as the road had become inaccessible six days ago and villagers had found it difficult to communicate problems relating to restricted movement and damaged property.

The federal government has classified the floods as a “calamity of severe nature,” and has committed Rs 6 billion in interim relief so far. Food minister Ram Vilas Paswan said the government will provide as much help as possible.

Authorities are handing out medicines and disinfectants to ward off diseases as a huge clean-up gathers pace.

The federal government has sent tonnes of emergency drugs and bleaching powder, besides supplying tablets for water purification, though JP Nadda, federal health minister, said no outbreak of communicable disease had been reported yet.

The United Arab Emirates said it will provide Rs 7bn to the state.

“Kerala has a special relationship with the UAE, which is a home away from home for Malayalees,” Vijayan said.

Several Gulf countries have a sizeable population of Keralites as expatriate workers. Since the 1960s, remittances from the Gulf have been the backbone of Kerala’s economy, making up a third of its gross domestic product.

India said yesterday that it plans to set up a cyclone warning centre in Kerala’s capital Thiruvananthapuram in a month’s time, as several tropical cyclones and severe weather events have recently struck the state and neighbouring Karnataka coasts.