India’s Kerala Church responds to flood emergency

The Indian states of Kerala, Karnataka, Maharastra and Gujarat have been hit by heavy monsoon floods. (AFP)

Father George Vettikattil, who heads the Kerala Social Service Forum that coordinates the Kerala Social Service Societies of the 32 dioceses of southern India’s Kerala state, says the Church has been carrying out relief and rescue operations following the floods and landslides caused by heavy monsoon rains.

As floods triggered by heavy monsoon rains continue to submerge vast areas of states in southern and western India, Church agencies are joining in rescue and relief efforts.

At least 200 people have died in floods and landslides following incessant rains that have particularly hit Kerala, Karnataka, Maharashtra and Gujarat states.  Over 1.2 million have been affected.

Meanwhile, heavy downpours lashed Uttarakhand and Jammu leaving nine people dead in landslides. Also, five people were killed in West Bengal and Odisha states in rain-related incidents on Monday.

Kerala, worst hit

Kerala, where unprecedented rain and floods killed 480 people last August, is also the worst-hit this year.

Kerala’s death toll stood at 85 on Monday, while in Karnataka, Gujarat and Maharashtra, 116 people have lost their lives.

About 250,000 people have been displaced in Kerala and are living in 1,600 relief camps that include church-run schools, hostels and even churches.

Church opens its doors to all

Catholic Church agencies are accommodating about 45,000 people in 300 church institutions being used as relief camps, he said.

“We have opened all our institutions to accommodate needy people in temporary and safe accommodation,” said Father George Vettikattil, who is secretary and director of the Kerala Social Service Forum (KSSF) that coordinates the charity efforts of all the 32 Catholic dioceses in the state through the local Social Service Societies.

Speaking on the phone to Vatican News, he explained about the situation in his state, saying at least 10 of the state’s 14 districts are hit by the deluge.  There have been some 100 landslides and many are missing.

Fr. Vettikattil, who is also secretary of the Justice, Peace and Development Commission of the Kerala Catholic Bishops’ Council (KCBC), explained that the 32 Catholic dioceses of Kerala cover 12 of the state’s 14 districts.

Each diocese has a Social Service Society, which together with local Catholic institutions, parishes and organizations, have been engaged in rescue and relief operations.

Currently,  the Church is running more than1,000 relief camps where about 50,000 people are taken care of by the Social Service Societies.

They are providing both food and non-food materials to all the affected people regardless of their religion.

Fishing communities give a hand

Fr. Vettikattil also spoke about the Catholic fishing communities that have come out to help with their boats.  During the floods last August, they rescued 65,000 from the floods.  In the current crisis, they have been placed in different locations to help out in rescue operations.

The Catholic Church is trying to collaborate with the government, which has its own plan.  But the church is focussing on its own relief camps.