22 August 2018

Delivered in the House of Representatives

I rise tonight to address the parliament about the devastating floods that have befallen southern India.

The state of Kerala hugs the south-western coast of India and it is home to more than 33 million people. It is renowned as a tropical paradise of golden beaches, picturesque canals and Ayurvedic rejuvenation. But today it is in the grip of catastrophe.

Twelve of its 14 districts have been impacted by what have been described as the worst floods this century. Reports vary on the precise scale and scope of the devastation, but the impact is staggering. To appreciate the scale of this tragedy, one need only look to the estimated more than one million people who have been displaced by the floods. Sadly, some 400 people have died and there are fears that, inevitably, the toll will climb. Aid agencies have reported widespread destruction resulting from floods and landslides. The damage to property has been disastrous. Homes remain submerged, crops destroyed and livestock lost. An estimated 10,000 kilometres of roads and bridges have been washed away, further frustrating disaster relief efforts.

The storm and flood damage is predicted to go in excess of $3 billion. As I speak, there are still fears for hundreds of thousands of people in Kerala who do not have access to clean water, sanitation, food and shelter. Approximately 4,000 relief camps have been set up to house people who have been displaced and to provide emergency assistance. Hundreds of boats and dozens of helicopters have been deployed as part of the rescue efforts. In many towns and villages in Kerala, rivers and lakes are the lifeblood of the community. Unfortunately, these waterways, which provide water for residents, livestock and crops alike can and have become deadly, with monsoon rain swelling rivers and overflowing dams. This is the reality Kerala now faces.

Kerala is also a popular location for tourists, with its beaches, rivers, forests and mountains, along with its temples and ports—all major attractions for domestic and international visitors. The impact of flooding on the local tourism industry will be significant. Kerala is a drawcard for significant religious and cultural festivals, including Onam, which falls on 25 August this year. It is an auspicious occasion which I have celebrated with my own local community.

Whilst it is crucial that disaster relief support is provided immediately, it is also imperative that ongoing support is given in the region to alleviate the damage to the local economy. Officials have reported that the rainfall in some areas is well over double that of a typical monsoon season. It's crucial that we elevate discussion within the Asia-Pacific and the Indo-Pacific region about preparation efforts for extreme climate events, including flood mitigation. Australia can and should lead this conversation.

Labor has offered its support for the Australian government to provide any assistance required in the wake of the floods, but we also understand that the government of India is advanced in the deployment of its own resources to cover disaster relief and rehabilitation. At a non-government level, I pay tribute to the generosity of the Indian diaspora in Australia, who are assisting in supporting the relief effort. I know that a number of local events and support drives have been initiated. Individuals and groups from the Australian Indian community have already begun fundraising and supporting those efforts to assist displaced people in need.

The people of Kerala face a long road to rebuild their homes and lives. The Indian Express reported today, quoting the state medical education minister, Girish Mahajan, about those affected:

They are shattered. Floods have played havoc with their lives and there is a sense of gloom among them.

They have waded in the floodwaters for more than 20-30 hours and several have fungal infections. Their houses are flooded and furniture can be seen submerged in water. It is a dismal sight.

I am privileged to represent a diverse, strong and growing community in Greenway which has ties to India, and specifically to Kerala, by birth or descent. My thoughts, prayers and a standing offer of support are with my many constituents who have family or loved ones affected by this terrible disaster.