The sound of thin wood beating against each other in harmony reverberates in the air in Chendamangalam, Kerala. At a workstation behind her home in this village in Ernakulam district, 55-year-old Ramla Gopalan pulls down a wooden lever of a loom as her feet pedal along; inch by inch, prints appear on a white cloth attached to her loom.
Chendamangalam has gained fame for its vibrant handloom culture over the years. The craft has been passed on through generations, and numerous weavers depend on it for their livelihood. But the weavers of Chendamangalam were caught off guard in 2018.
The devastating Kerala floods damaged several weaving units, especially those at weavers’ houses. With all the stock and machinery damaged by floodwaters of the overflowing Periyar river, the weaving community were in despair. The losses suffered evince how climate hazards could threaten livelihoods. According to CEEW analysis, Ernakulam district has recorded a five-fold increase in the frequency and intensity of extreme floods since 2010.
Recalling the peak of the flooding in 2018, Ramla says, “We couldn’t tell our houses from the roads. We had never seen anything like that in our lifetime.”
At the veranda of her house, Ramla marks the top edge of the main entrance door to indicate the water level during the flood. “Our workshed was flooded, and we found everything inside ruined,” she sighs. After spending days at a relief camp, they returned to find muddied yarn and destroyed looms.
Photo: Shawn Sebastian
Ramla observes that several canals, which naturally drained water in the locality, were filled over the years to build roads and houses. Several experts have also pointed toward drastic changes in land use patterns for the devastating 2018 floods. According to CEEW analysis, over 64 per cent of Kerala’s districts, including Ernakulam, have undergone significant changes in land-use and land-cover attributes, thereby, triggering climate extremities.
Rama, another weaver, says that flooding, though not as grave as in 2018, is common in the locality because of the southwestern monsoon from June to August. “Due to erratic rainfall and changes in climate, it now floods even in December and January,” she says.
Photo: Milan George Jacob
Priyadarshini Gopalan, Secretary of the North Paravur Weavers Cooperative, of which Ramla and Rama are members, says that since 2018, the weavers — especially those living in low-lying areas — have been living in fear in anticipation of another flood.
“The cooperative society took the lead in repairing the damaged work units of about 100 weavers,” says Priyadarshini. After the events of 2018, the weavers are more alert and prepared in the event of another flood, she adds.
“As a precautionary measure, if the weavers run out of yarn, they do not order the next batch until the rainy season subsides,’’ she says, adding that it is now a common practice to hang the leftover stocks at a higher level.
In order to avoid a repeat of 2018, the weavers want the authorities to provide early and accurate warnings. This would give them enough time to make sure that as many of their assets as possible are moved to safety.
The lessons from Chendamangalam are mixed. While the weaving community suffered huge economic losses due to the floods, they have also become more conscious of the potential climate risks and the need to build resilience. Above all, the community realised that conserving natural ecosystems and receiving accurate early warnings could minimise losses due to increasing climate risks.
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