The day before I left India, the strangest thing happened in New Mexico. It started raining. As we all know, rain is the godsend to all New Mexicans who understand the unsettling, dry heat you can literally feel when you breathe during the day.
Well, the scene is a little different here in India due to the fact it’s raining. All. The. Time.
Along with a group of Canadian and Indian students, I was able to visit rural communities in Alappuzha. As a part of our Live-in-Labs program, we observed the issues the communities were experiencing and hosted medical camps for the people in order to further our understanding in the social conditions they face every day.
Until the “actual flood” hit.
We were lucky enough to be evacuated from the place we were staying in before all the roads were blocked due to landslides and water covering the roads. We are currently being surrounded by the worst flood to ever hit the southern end of India in over a century, to the point that all 37 dams in Kerala (the state I am currently in) have been opened. In addition to this, the rain has not stopped in more than 24 hours. You may or may not have seen the news about the Kerala floods, but it has not been receiving the attention it deserves. Being an American student, especially one who has never even encountered this much rain, one feels quite helpless and confused on what to do. What do you do when instead of seeing, hearing, and empathizing with a country that’s experiencing a natural disaster, you are actually there, experiencing it, living in its reality. It’s astonishing how one can go from desert to flood in a matter of a month. It’s almost surreal how the disaster has become a reality for me, and yet why am I still here writing this blog in a dry room while there are thousands of relief camps less than five kilometers away?
The answer to that is circumstance. I was born to parents who were able to provide for me and lived in an area where droughts happen rather than floods. People here don’t have that choice. Kerala is surrounded by water, to the west the Arabian sea, in addition to 44 rivers. This means that everyone essentially lives by the water, and rural communities near the coastal line make up the majority of the population here. Livelihood here is based on water, and on average they receive 1649.55 mm of rainfall, but this year they received 2,346 mm of it. To put that in perspective, New Mexico receives exactly 361 mm of rain every year on average… on a good year. Ironically, all this water will not be harvested into groundwater and Kerala will continue to experience water scarcity.
To elaborate, Kerala receives the most water in the country but none of it can be used or harvested due to lack of water sanitation. Its shocking to realize that we can genetically modify an embryo to create a “designer baby”, but the world has not figured out a sustainable solution to provide clean water to almost a billion people who lack basic need for water. Have we as humans lost compassion for those suffering and redirected our efforts into ourselves and distractions? To be honest, it is that easy to look the other way because it’s not your problem or your reality and a month ago I could have done the same. Life is really different in India especially when you came to do the whole cultural immersion and studying aspect of study abroad and instead got hit with the worst flood in over a century. People I have become friends with cannot even go home because their house is underwater and are being forced to spend their holiday in the university. Those who provided us with their hospitality are now housed in one of the thousands of relief camps. The entire state has canceled the biggest celebration called Onam because how can one celebrate while another is suffering?
Nevertheless, with tragedy and suffering, Keralites remain strong, united and hopeful.
The project I worked on recently implemented a water filtration system in one of the communities we went to and we decided to go back for its inauguration. The entire community was knee deep in water and they considered themselves “lucky”. The entire community used the clean water from the filtration system to make tea for us. I am approached by welcoming faces and open hearts by people who have lost so much and live in broken-down homes. Despite the circumstances they were in, they managed to welcome anyone who was only there for a moment with genuine love. They reminded me what it was like to be grateful for the blessings in my life and that kindness is everything.
Please donate to any relief agencies for the Kerala floods.