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Kerala Floods: What tactics media used to amplify rainfall stats in Kerala

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Anant Chetan
Anant Chetan
An aficionado blogger and an engineer by profession. By qualifications, a Masters in Embedded System Design.

The sophisticated art of deducing meaningful information from data i.e. raw facts and figures has become one of the most powerful tools for telling convincing stories. The immensely creative selected few who developed this expertise can portray contrasting shades of pieces of information from the same data points. Although creativity should always be promoted, but practicing this particular skill during reportage defeats the sole purpose of reportage, “generating awareness.”

The so-called fourth pillar of our democracy, Mainstream Media, displayed an unbelievable creativity in their reportage last month. The unfortunate events that occurred in Kerala taking lives of hundreds and wiping out hundred of crores was deemed as an act of god. They not only called it a “natural” flood but also the worst flood in a century. News sources dug in data for the entire century, compared it with different years. Some of them went a step ahead and presented the percentage increase in the rainfall for specific days of the month. As if we humans have a written contract  from the mother nature that every year same amount of rainfall will happen on the exact same days. All, literally all the media sources showed processed information like these:

news collage

Quite interestingly the data points, the numbers mentioned are correct, however the information conveyed is misleading. How?

After reading statements like: “The rainfall was ‘n’ times the normal or “x” percent more than the normal”, I started wondering what normal is? How is normal calculated? I found a definition for normal:

“Normal” precipitation to a meteorologist is an average of the precipitation values over a 30-year period.”Normal” precipitation does not equal “what you should expect.”  Precipitation may very often be either well above or well below the seasonal average, or “normal.”

As per ENVIS Center Kerala Kerala State Council for Science, Technology and Environment (KSCSTE):

  • Average Rainfall during southwest monsoon (June 1 to September 30) in Kerala is 2250-2500mm. Below is the actual rainfall received in Kerala during the Southwest Monsoon season for past few years:
    • In 2012:  1551.3 mm against a normal rainfall of 2309 mm
    • In 2013:  2570.3 mm
    • In 2014:  2163.3 mm
    • In 2015:  1514.3 mm
    • In 2016:  1352.3 mm
    • In 2017:  1855.9 mm
    • In 2018 (till date) the actual rainfall is less than 2500 mm.

Now, read the news headlines again (shown in the picture above), especially the one in red rectangle. The news item misleads in the following ways:

  1. “So, far there has been 2346 mm of rainfall instead of the average 1649 mm.” 1649 mm was the normal rainfall and not the average rainfall.
  2. “Kerala received 42% more than usual rainfall.”  It is 42% more than normal, which is a mathematical term and cannot be replaced by usual.
  3. The worst part, this particular news clipping is from CWC’s report, but the media source intentionally changed the key words to give it a different face. (You can find the similar looking line here at page 32 of CWC report)

“Average” annual rainfall is different than the “Normal” rainfall and “usual” is an English word. What is the usual rainfall for Kerala? Normal, Usual, Average used interchangeably gave everyone an impression that this amount of rainfall was expected but it rained too much. After this year’s southwest monsoon the “normal” has already increased to 1931 mm. Normal  rainfall is a mathematical term and not the “expected” rainfall. Moreover, the mathematically calculated normal 1649 mm for this year is not even 100 mm more than 2012’s (1551 mm rainfall) which was called as drought by the Kerala Government. This proves that comparing rainfall with mathematical normal rainfall is misleading in this context. Further, media also tried to amplify the rainfall in Kerala by comparing it to states like Delhi, which even in ideal scenarios receive approximately one fourth of the rainfall Kerala receives.

Floods in India is nothing new. Every year one or the other state witnesses a flood. We don’t care about the losses incurred because of them. Do we? Please have a look at my previous article on floods and democracy. The floods in Kerala were misrepresented. Why the need to create a tsunami effect out of a flood?

What does anybody gain by exaggerating a flood? Why the need?

I don’t know. This could be a tactic to create pressure on different entities to donate. Money in crores flowing in from all directions; asking for international aid; going to the UN for funds. Like we read 2G,3G, CWG or Coal gate today; we might read about a flood gate a decade later; one of the biggest scam of the century. I don’t know. But, I know one thing for sure; whatever comes out as the reason, nobody would point fingers towards media. Because if anybody would do that, it would be called fascism, undeclared emergency, threat to democracy, targeting media, killing the messenger and what not.

Coming back to issue at hand, having said all this, it is also a fact that there was overwhelming water all over the place. Streets, houses, farms, everything was submerged in water. How did this happen? The answer to this question is available in the report published by Central Water Commission. Surprisingly, neither the state with 100% literacy and most politically active people nor the intellectuals or so had time to go through the report. Perhaps they were busy in Social media trolling, keeping a track of how many states transferred how my crores, humiliating the ones, who dint contribute. 

After reading the CWC report on Kerala, a variety of questions came to my mind. Some of the questions are mentioned below.  If you find any merit in this article of mine, please stay tuned for my views on the CWC report. Till then be safe, read the newspaper carefully, they are dangerous!!!

  • Was Gadgil Committee report brought into the discussion to divert the attention from something? Was it a cover-up attempt?
  • Is it really a global warming issue or something else?
  • Are government institutes incapable of managing water resources? Has the time come to scale up the public private partnerships in this field?   
  • Is Kerala staring at a real disaster? What happens if rainfall crosses 2500 mm mark in coming years? This time till today it has not  reached 2500 mm mark. 

Thanks for reading! And don’t forget to visit my personal blog Infinite Sea of Opportunities.

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Anant Chetan
Anant Chetan
An aficionado blogger and an engineer by profession. By qualifications, a Masters in Embedded System Design.
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