There is no recourse for Coastal communities if their boats get wrecked due to rough seas or storms.
KOCHI: Fishers returning to shore with their bounty starkly juxtaposed with a graveyard of storm-ravaged boats in south Chellanam here is a grim reminder of how climate change is snatching away the livelihoods of people in coastal Kerala.
According to a 2021 study in the journal Climate Dynamics, there was a 52 per cent increase in the frequency of cyclonic storms in the Arabian Sea between 2001 and 2019.
While the increment in cyclonic storm duration was 80 per cent, very severe cyclonic storms witnessed an almost threefold rise as compared to the period between 1982 and 2000.
Coastal communities in Kerala that depend on fishing for survival are facing an unprecedented existential threat as there is no recourse if their boats get wrecked due to rough seas or storms.
In 2019, 56-year-old V S Podiyal of south Chellanam had gone out to fish, but his boat capsized due to rough seas.
“When high waves started hitting, my boat flipped. There were 18 of us and we were rescued after four hours, but my boat was damaged beyond repair,” he said.
Podiyal’s boat ‘Rosemary’ now sits in the “boat graveyard” with weeds poking through its rotting wood, surrounded by other broken boats.
“There is no way to repair it and no scheme from the government to help us. If the equipment is lost, the government has no compensation scheme. Several fishermen are facing this problem,” he said.
P V Wilson, standing next to him, has a different struggle.
Like Podiyal, he also lost his boat to sea in 2021 which forced him to give up fishing as he could not afford to buy a new one.
As Wilson looked at other boats returning to the shore with their catch, he said, “At times, I wonder how different my life would have been if I was still fishing. I had plans to send my children for higher education but after my boat capsized we had no savings.”
“My two daughters wanted to become teachers but had to give up their education as I had no savings, he added. As climate change is making the sea unpredictable, several small boat fishers are wondering how to continue with their limited resources in the face of uncertainty. Earlier, the sea was not this rough, we knew the sea, we knew the waves but now the sea feels like a stranger, an unknown unpredictable entity,” he said.
Father John Kalathi, vicar of St George Church in south Chellanam, said there are 600 families in his parish and 99 per cent earn their livelihood through fishing.
“But the situation is terrible for them because of climate change, weather, change in sea and water. The fish catch is reducing but the expense is very high for them to carry on fishing,” he said.
“This community loves the sea, however, the sea does not love them back often,” he added.
Moreover, debt traps by loan sharks are adding to the woes of the fishers, Kalathi said.
Most fishermen who lost their boats to rough seas have to take loans at high-interest rates from loan sharks to meet their financial requirements and they are getting trapped, Kalathi said.
Podiyal, who took a loan of Rs 25,000 at an interest rate of 10 per cent per month, is one of them.
“Now that amount has risen to Rs 40,000 and I have no means to pay the loan back. I fear that the loan sharks would start threatening me soon,” he said.
Meanwhile, the government, on its part, established a separate cyclone warning centre in Kerala in 2018 in a bid to reduce damage from extreme weather.
The India Meteorological Department (IMD) centre serves not only Kerala but also neighbouring Karnataka and the island of Lakshadweep in the Indian Ocean.
The country now has seven weather warning centres.
But small boats are often damaged severely by not just extreme weather events but also by unpredictable rough seas and thunderstorms and lightning.
A senior IMD official said the department is looking to expand its early warning system and cover small-scale weather events that often affect small-boat fishers like Wilson and Podiyal.