Environmental Disasters : Natural or Man-Made?

Natural disasters

Natural disasters

When the terrible flood forces hit the state of Kerala in August 2018, the entire nation watched in horror. At least 483 people lost their lives, in what is considered the state’s worst flood in over a century. Amidst this chaos that many see as nature’s wrath, one statement has come, causing disbelief in many.

According to ecologist and environmentalist Madhav Gadgil, the tragedy in Kerala was in all likeliness, a man-made disaster, contrary to popular opinion. While his claim has made more people probe further into the matter, it has also reignited the age-old debate in India. Are all the so-called natural disasters really born out of a natural, uncontrollable cause, or is the mankind knowingly or unknowingly going on a rampage?

Kerala floods 2018

Starting from August 15, 2018, “God’s own country”, Kerala was subject to continuous wrath, with heavy rainfall and gradual flooding leaving the area in hysterics. All of the fourteen districts in the state were put on red alert, with the government of India declaring it a Level 3 Calamity, meaning one of severe nature.

The news reports showed details of how from the 1st to 21st August, Kerala had already experienced the highest August rains in 87 years! Naturally then, extreme rainfall has been the most commonly cited cause of the Kerala floods. But, there are some who disagree. Madhav Gadgil, the man who headed the Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel (WGEEP), has put the blame on illegal constructions on river beds, and on unlicensed stone quarrying- both for the floods, as well as for the recent landslides in Kerala. Not entirely disregarding the excessive rainfall, Gadgil has said that the floods were ‘also’ a man-made disaster.

The WGEEP was constituted by the government, and in its 2011 report, it had recommended that multiple areas that come under the Western Ghats, many being in Kerala, should be declared ecologically sensitive. Founder of the Centre for Ecological Studies in IIT, Bengaluru, Gadgil had also advised for strict restrictions to be placed on the excessive mining and quarrying in the area. However, his suggestions were not incorporated.

Another study by a team from the National Centre for Earth Science Studies has declared that the floods were a combined result of man-made and natural causes.

A brief overview

In June 2013, India witnessed one of its worst tragedies since the 2004 tsunami. The floods hit Northern India brutally, with Uttrakhand bearing most of the casualties and wrecking. The official records put the death toll at 5700 plus, with many more lives destructed by the horrifying event. However, while cloud bursting is referred to as the major cause of the tragedy, environmentalists have a different view to offer.

Geologists have said that the destruction and deaths from the disaster could have been significantly curbed, had there been proper regulations and means available. Some environmentalists have even declared the floods a man-made disaster.

From these incidents, one thing becomes clear. Intentionally or not, mankind is quickly building up a threat, both against the environment and itself. Be it the Kerala riverbeds, or the sensitive hill regions of Uttrakhand, there were security measures and precautions that should’ve been taken but were not.


It is true that we cannot prevent the forces of nature from striking down on us. Ironically, however, mankind has been playing its part to worsen the wrath and its impact. Proper regulations and considerations are not being taken to deal with something as sensitive as our environment. The examples of illegal quarrying, land-mines, constructions etc are not just one or two, but enough to make us sit back and worry.

The question is, why do we take something so grave and important this lightly? There is no denying that the tragedies of Kerala, Uttrakhand and several more places could have been avoided, or at least significantly reduced, had we been more attentive towards our own environment. Reckless steps taken for economical benefits can have disastrous effects in the long run, as can now be seen clearly. It is time we talk more seriously about our climate, and more importantly, we start listening to the warnings.