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Saturday , November 17 2018

Tourism in Kerala left ‘mud-bound’ – ‘GDP growth may fall’

NEW DELHI/ALAPPUZHA, Aug 28, (RTRS): More than a week after the floodwater began subsiding, animal carcasses are still floating in Kerala’s backwaters, and in places a nauseating stench rises like a wall when the wake from a passing boat breaks the surface.

These inland lagoons running parallel to the coast are one of the biggest tourist draws in India’s most southwesterly state, but the stain of death and devastation wrought by Kerala’s worst flood in a century will take longer than a season to wash away.

The quaint towns and villages scattered between the lush forests and paddy fields bordering the backwaters are now communities in despair. Houses in low-lying areas are still submerged, roads are waterlogged and the sewage from drains have washed into channels that are too slow-moving to effectively flush out the effluent.

Sudarsanan T.K., a houseboat owner in the town of Alappuzha, had been looking forward to the peak tourist season, but as his home disappeared under 2.5 metres (eight foot) of water his family now have to live aboard the boat he would otherwise be renting to tourists from Europe, China, Malaysia and India. “I’ve nothing left, but this houseboat. I don’t know how I can repay my bank loan in this condition. The bank may take back my boat. I will have nothing at all then,” Sudarsanan, a 64-year-old father of two, told Reuters.

Some 1,500 houseboats are tied up at Alappuzha, going nowhere, with many of the owners still paying off loans taken to buy the boats. Sudarsanan owes about $8,600 on the loan taken eight years ago to buy the boat, and he could have earned up to $7,000 by December if the deluge hadn’t washed away his hopes. Hundreds of people perished in the flood and more than one million of Kerala’s 35 million people were forced to abandon their homes and take shelter in relief camps. Blessed with natural beauty, fertile land and bountiful seas, Kerala has been dubbed “God’s own country” by its people, but the Marxists running the state government reckon it will need $3.57 billion to rebuild over the next two years.

“Kerala’s GDP growth may fall by 2 percent,” state Finance Minister T.M. Thomas Isaac told Reuters, forecasting growth of 6 percent for the financial year ending next March.

Crops have been lost, the construction industry was dead for a month, and tourism, which contributes 10 percent of the state’s economy but accounts for about 25 percent of jobs creation, has been badly hit.

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