Kerala: life 'in the bowl'

Documenting the potential problems of climate change in southwestern India
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The Independent Online

Rainspotting is a project run by Greenpeace to investigate how people in India are already being affected by climate change.

Grace Boyle has traveled from London to Bangalore to work on the project, and is documenting their progress in "Rainspotting in Bangalore", her blog for The Independent.

In this photo essay Grace documents life in Kerala, a coastal state in southwestern India.

It is the coast, a gleaming stretch of meandering white-gold, that characterises Kerala. The state has only 10 per cent of India’s coastline, but is home to 25 per cent of the country’s fishing population, and a correlating proportion of its fish production. The fishing communities are concentrated here because the seas are notably rich, a wealth attributed to a unique phenomenon called Chaakara: during the monsoon season, the rains flush out clay particles from the banks of the 41 rivers leading down to the coast. Rich in nutrients, the clay particles create a breeding ground for fish and prawns, resulting in unusually high sea yields. Needless to say, if the monsoon is poor, this stock will be among those critically affected.

A high concentration of fishermen means a crowded coastline, and the rising seas have already started their slow chomp on the homesteads. Two years ago in Veli, a village just outside the capital city of Thiruvananthapuram, the tide destroyed a stretch of houses that had stood untouched for thirty years. More than sixty families were rendered homeless in a matter of three days. In an effort to lessen their vulnerability, the government has commissioned the building of a sea wall along large stretches of the coast, a strategy opposed by residents who struggle to lift their boats over the construction. It’s also a highly expensive business, they say, and strewn with corruption. Each year the rough monsoon seas knock down parts of the wall, and they have to be rebuilt.

The problems of climate change may not yet be impoverishing the people of Kerala as much as in other states in India, but that does not mean that they are not being felt, nor that the future is any less foreboding. Like the frog in the bowl, people are adapting their lifestyles to the rising temperatures, erratic rains and encroaching seas, too preoccupied with their day-to-day struggles to worry about the idea of a looming global phenomenon.