By Jacob Oedy
For many Americans, the recent flooding in India seems a distant disaster. For three members of the Cedarville family, however, the waters have reached far too close to home. The record floods that have been tearing through the South Asian country since the beginning of June have forced the relocation of millions, including the family of David, Joseph, and Timothy Mattackal.
The Mattackals grew up in the southwestern state of Kerala, where the floods have been most devastating. Timothy, who graduated from Cedarville last spring with a degree in finance, shared the recent struggles of his extended family.
“This has been the worst flooding that we’ve seen in Kerala for more than a century,” Timothy said. “A lot of dams overflowed … About 1.2 million people have been forced to leave their homes and are being housed in relief camps.”
The official death toll across India has risen to almost one thousand, according to The Times of India, with the Mattackals’ family among those forced to vacate their homes. Timothy described the destruction his family has witnessed.
“My aunt and her family live near the city called Kochi, which is the biggest city in the state and was one of the most heavily affected areas,” Timothy said. “Their house was flooded up to the first floor. And so they had to leave, to go to a different place where the flooding was not as bad. And then over 6,300 miles of roads were super damaged. Bridges were destroyed. A lot of crops and agriculture were destroyed.”
But even with the water receding and many finally returning home, the crisis has not come to an end, Timothy said.
“There are still concerns over things like snakes being in houses and concerns over sanitation and the spread of disease through food and drinking water,” said Timothy.
Numerous videos of families finding and fending off large snakes and even crocodiles in their homes have surfaced. Additionally, the state has faced a frightening outbreak of leptospirosis, also known as rat fever.
The state government has declared that it will not be funding any celebrations or festivals in the near future. This includes the popular International Film Festival of Kerala as well as well as state school celebrations. In the meantime, the people of Kerala will focus their efforts elsewhere.
“The difficulty is trying to recover what’s left and salvage things that have been damaged by the flooding,” Timothy said.
While the catastrophe in Kerala was unexpectedly severe, it was not altogether unprecedented. Cedarville ecology professor Dr. Mark Gathany explained that flooding is not uncommon in that part of the world.
“India is well known, and Bangladesh as well, for their regular cycles of flooding.” Gathany said. “On both sides you have big bodies of water, and so when it gets warm in the summertime you get a lot of heating over the continent or over the peninsula, and with that heating you get air rising. The air comes in from the sides of the oceans and so as it rises we get thunderstorms.”
This meteorological phenomenon, known as the monsoon season, usually occurs between June and September. The term monsoon refers to a directional shift in winds. In India’s case, it specifically refers to the winds blowing off of the ocean and towards the continent.
Dr. Gathany offered some speculation on what may have caused this year’s monsoon season to be so remarkably cataclysmic.
“I think the concern now is the connection to global climate change and, if that’s a strong connection, if this is the new norm basically. Are we to expect these regular ‘hundred year floods’ every ten years?”
Others have theorized that some blame lies not with the climate, but with man-made infrastructure, said Timothy. Mismanaged or poorly engineered dams have been linked with the devastation of the floods.
Similarly, Timothy added, others point to human interruption of ecosystems in the Western Ghats mountain range as a possible factor. The mountains are vital in breaking up storm clouds over the area, but scientists suggest that they are shrinking in size due to deforestation and human incursions.
Dr. Gathany suggested Cedarville students could be part of the solution to these man-made problems.
“As believers, as Christians, even thinking about the civil engineering program starting here at Cedarville, those are places where we can step into this,” Gathany said.
Similarly, Timothy asked that the Cedarville community join him in praying “that we could view this as an opportunity for the church in Kerala to really contribute to the welfare of society and for people to realize that Christians are God’s light in the world.”
Jacob Oedy is a freshman journalism major and writer for Off-Campus and Entertainment. He enjoys creative writing, investigating, and hanging out with the best hall on campus, Brock 3 East.