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Friday, July 03, 2020

Kerala: 2018 flood on mind, houses in backwaters region now on stilts

The region, known as Kerala’s granary and for its famed backwater tourism, is now moving to houses on stilts.

Written by Shaju Philip | Thiruvananthapuram | Updated: July 1, 2020 1:07:32 am
Trend to build houses on stilts has caught on over last two years.(Express Photo)

Having seen their homes submerged in the devastating 2018 floods in Kerala, many people in Kuttanad region, in Alappuzha district, are remaking their houses — going a step up to keep rising water levels at bay.

The region, known as Kerala’s granary and for its famed backwater tourism, is now moving to houses on stilts. And people who cannot afford such a house have done truss work on the roof so that they can remain safe in the event of a flood. Truss work is an extra roofing over the terrace, usually in a triangular shape, making the terrace a covered, usable space — at a height.

“We are not new to rising waters, but the 2018 flood had made us think of ways to remain afloat,” Vettikkattuchira Muraleedharan, an auto-rickshaw driver who constructed a house on stilts, or pillars, last year, said. “All our belongings were destroyed as water gushed into homes. Aged parents could not be rescued on time…we were neck-deep in water inside.”

His wife Sathiyamma, a literacy prerak (motivator), said they could not think of a new house in the mainland due to the soaring real estate market. “So we decided to construct a new one on pillars at the same plot after living in a temporary shed. Now, we are much above the level the water had risen in 2018,’’ she said.

The Kuttanad region, also spread over parts of Kottayam and Pathanamthitta districts, is 2.2 m below sea level, with houses perched precariously on narrow strips of lands sandwiched between paddy fields and backwaters. Monsoon after monsoon, the 80 or so villages, with vast paddy fields, face the fury of water gushing in from the eastern hills and towns of central Kerala. In the aftermath of the 2018 flood, Kuttanad remained submerged for several days.

If only a handful of the rich had experimented with houses on stilts in the past, the trend has caught on over the last two years in the region.

Kainakari panchayat president Panakkalchira Sheela said, “All houses in the panchayats that are either constructed or are under construction after 2018 floods are on pillars. Nearly 350 such houses are already under various stages of construction.” Sheela pointed out that the authorities did not ask people to build such houses. “The experience (of the floods) made them fight back in their own way. Many others have gone for truss work. This leaves space on on the terrace, so that they can stay safe even if the house gets submerged,” she said.

Beena Vinod, a panchayat member who is constructing a house on pillars, said, “Many families initially considered leaving the region. But that is not easy for people like us who are mainly dependent on cultivation and fishing in backwaters. We want to continue living here,” she said.

The trend is now more visible at Kainakarai, Chambakkulam, Nedumudi and Veliyandu panchayats, where hundreds of houses are coming up on pillars.

Besides, kothumbu vallam – a tiny country craft – which was earlier the only source at Kuttanad homes to escape floods, is now being replaced by small motorised ones.

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