Alarming dip in Kerala’s drinking water resources due to extreme heat wave lashing the state

The southern state recorded the highest temperatures in the last decade at the beginning itself of 2016

-by Haritha John, originally posted on March 24, 2016


According to environmental activists, Kerala is going through highest recorded temperatures in the last decade at the beginning of this year itself. Palakkad district has crossed 40 degree Celsius several times, while Kannur hovers near 40 most of the time.

The average temperature in the rest of the districts is around 35 degree Celsius.

Severe drinking water problem has been reported from different parts of Kerala as fresh water bodies have started drying up. People in rural settlements which are exclusively dependent on natural water bodies are now traversing long miles just to access drinking water.

Saline water incursion­

Situation in cities are also not different. In cities like Kochi and Kannur, the saline content in the water supplied by the municipal corporations has increased, as when the water level in the rivers dip, sea water tends to enter the rive­­rs. Places like Kunnumpuram, Cherai, Thundiparambu, Kazhuthumuttu and Vypeen to name a few in Kochi have been reportedly receiving saline water.

In a study conducted on the summer of 2015 by the SCMS College in Kochi, it was revealed that last year’s summer saw the chloride concentration in water in these areas rise to 1000mg per litre as against the permissible limit of less than 250 mg in a litre of potable water.

 Rivers dry up

In cities like Palakkad and Thiruvananthapuram, rivers are drying up rapidly with simultaneous reduction in water supply. Dr.V.Subhash Chandra Bose -Director at Communication and Capacity Development Unit (CCDU), Water Resource Department, Kerala- is alarmed at the prospect of chronic water shortage in the state, if such high temperatures continue to prevail.

For example -he says- the 300-million-litre per day treatment plant at Aruvikkara, one of the major plants that distributes water to the capital city of Thiruvananthapuram has water just about sufficient for hardly a month more of supply.

The plant mainly gets its water from the Peppara dam built across the Karama river in Thiruvananthapuram. The dam and the river which are well-known for its abundance of water have now almost dried up. Photographs of the catchment area of the dam proves it.

“Ideally we should get 10% of rainfall during the summers; the rest of the rain we usually receive during the monsoons. But this time, we hardly had any summer rain. Kerala has got orographic rainfall which depends on the Western Ghats; so deforestation of the ghats could be a major reason,” he feels.

“A rise in temperature first affects the surface water and gradually it will lead to drought and disasters,” he warns. He also adds that mono-culture i.e. cultivation of a single crop in a given area, rubber cultivation, urbanization etc… are all adversely affecting the water resources in the state.

So what will Kerala do if the current temperature prevails?

“If it does not rain this summer, next summer too will see us without access to any fresh water. Discussing about drought at the time of actual drought doesn’t make any sense. It should be done when there is plenty of water. Think about means of preserving water when we have abundant rains. There are hundreds of ways to harvest rain water. Save water for the future,” he says.

He also warns that 30 or 40 years ago, the rain water which fell on the Western Ghats reached the Arabian sea in three or four weeks’ time. Now the water hardly takes two days due to rapid urbanization. “So day by day, Nature is losing her capacity to preserve water, which makes man-made preservation of water all the more mandatory,” he stresses.

Most affected

Kerala is blessed with abundant sunlight and rain which makes it a fertile land for agriculture. The farmers are now the most affected by the impending drought-like situation.

In 2013, a study conducted by the state agricultural department found that drought caused a loss of Rs 24.13 crores to the farmers from paddy cultivation alone. The study also revealed that the loss in total agriculture cultivation in Palakkad district alone was around Rs 33 crores.

In 2016, reports say that 377 hectares of paddy farms have already been fully destroyed this summer, and 530 farmers have been affected.

Since 2016 has recorded such high temperatures at the beginning of the year itself, this could be much higher this year. Though Palakkad is the most affected, the situation in other districts is no less different.

Unless drastic remedial measures are not put in place by authorities concerned, Kerala -known as God’s Own Country- is now on the verge of becoming a literal hell-hole to live in.

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