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BRIEF January 19, 2022

World Bank-Kerala state partnership breaks new ground in sub national strategic engagement


  • Driven by climate change, Kerala, the Indian state in the southern peninsula has experienced a combination of devastating rains and droughts over the last few years.
  • In 2018 alone, floods and landslides affected 5.4 million people in the region, destroying more than 10,000 KM of roads with losses amounting to almost $3.8 billion. Further devastating floods and landslides occurred in 2019 and 2020.
  • Between 2019 and 2021 the World Bank committed a total of $620 million to help the state build resilience. Cross-sectoral support has resulted in improved fiscal sustainability, faster disaster relief, and better management of water supply and sanitation, among others.

India is one of the most vulnerable countries in the world to climate change, and the densely populated state of Kerala is among the most susceptible to natural disasters.

As the first state in India to face the monsoon winds that roll in from the Arabian Sea, Kerala receives one of the highest levels of rainfall in the country. However, its undulating terrain drains most of this rainwater into the sea, leaving it prone to summer droughts, followed by months of intense monsoon rainfall.

“Till very recently, Wayanad, like most parts of Kerala had six different types of rain, each with its own sound, pace, color and even smell.” Cheruvayil Raman, a farmer from Wayanad.

Climate change is now increasing the intensity and frequency of both floods and droughts in the state. And the rapidly warming Arabian Sea has rendered it more susceptible to cyclones, which were once rare off the Kerala coast.  

The 2018 floods —the worst in a century — proved to be a wake-up call. Heavy monsoon rains caused landslides in the ecologically fragile Western Ghats and swollen rivers swept rapidly down the hillsides, taking barely a few hours to flood the densely populated plains below.  The impacts were exacerbated by growing human settlements on land where the water would have otherwise run through. The state was also unprepared to cope with the huge scale of disaster.

One sixth of Kerala’s population — about 5.4 million — was affected, with widespread loss of life, property and habitats, especially in the Pamba river basin, the rice bowl of the state. Over 10,000 kilometers of roads were torn up and thousands of homes destroyed, leading to financial losses of $3.74 billion (INR 267.20 billion).

The devastation led the state to rethink its development paradigm and accelerate long-pending policy and institutional reforms to build a resilient Nava Keralam (New Kerala).

“Kerala is known for its social development model, its health model, and its 100 percent literacy model. Now we need to be known for our ecological awareness model.” Viju B., Environmental Journalist, Times of India, Kochi.


Soon after the floods in 2018, a multisectoral Bank team holistically analyzed the constraints that impeded the state’s resilient development.  A Joint Rapid Disaster Needs Assessment was prepared, forming the basis for the government’s Rebuild Kerala Development Program (RKDP).  The RKDP is the government’s comprehensive roadmap for a green and resilient Kerala, to be implemented over a period of eight years.

To help the state build resilience across a broad range of sectors, the World Bank and the Government of Kerala jointly developed a first-of-its-kind State Partnership Framework to address the root causes of risk.  As the nature of the partnership is evolving, lessons learnt along the way can be adopted as the program progresses.

The World Bank’s First Resilient Kerala Program (2019, $250 million) supported the Government’s Rebuild Kerala Initiative and triggered policy and institutional reforms in the state.

These efforts improved Kerala’s capacity to respond to disasters, as evidenced by the reduced loss of lives, assets, and livelihoods in the floods and landslides that again engulfed the state in 2019 and 2020.

From 2021, a second World Bank initiative, the Resilient Kerala Program ($370 million) furthered the reform agenda both at the state level as well as in four districts of the Pamba river basin - Alapuzzha, Idukki, Kottayam, and Pathinamthitta. The Pamba river basin - which was heavily impacted by the floods - is a microcosm of the state encompassing dense tropical forests and semi-urbanized settlements.

With the outbreak of Covid 19 and other zoonotic diseases, the program helped the state strengthen its public health systems through an integrated approach for the surveillance, prevention, and control of disease.

The World Bank also supports a comprehensive technical assistance (TA) program that covers multiple sectors and  several national level Bank projects have a footprint in the state. These include the Kerala Solid Waste Management Project ($300 million), the Dam Rehabilitation and Improvement Project (DRIP; $437.50 million), the Second Dam Rehabilitation and Improvement Project (DRIP-II, $713.41 million), the Second Kerala State Transport Project (KSTP, $445 million), and National Cyclone Risk Mitigation Project Phase II (NCRMP-II, $387 million).

The state partnership has also facilitated collaboration among development partners, industry, academia and think-tanks, leveraging World Bank resources significantly. The next phase of the partnership proposes to deepen Kerala’s resilience in the critical areas of water resources management, including flood and coastal resilience.


  • Improved Fiscal Sustainability

    Given Kerala’s limited fiscal space and high levels of debt, the World Bank program supported initial steps to improve fiscal sustainability, including by mobilizing private finances. In March 2019, the state government raised $300 million in foreign markets under its first rupee-denominated Masala Bond. In addition, over $270 million was raised through a two-year cess for flood relief levied on the taxable value of services.

  • Quick Relief and Disaster Risk Insurance

    After the first major floods in 2018, it took 7-9 months for the government to distribute disaster assistance to affected households. In 2019, due to government efforts, most households received compensation within 30 days, while the rest were compensated within 3 months. In 2020, it took just 15-30 days for those affected to receive aid. The World Bank has now been working with the Government of Kerala to develop a unified database of vulnerable households so that social security benefits and disaster assistance is channelized in a timely manner.

    Over the medium term, the program aims to develop early warning systems that better predict climate-related disasters and trigger relief payments even before a disaster hits so that households are able to prepare themselves accordingly. In addition to these adaptive safety nets, options for disaster insurance in key sectors such as agriculture will also be increased. The Bank’s first program has already increased the uptake of agricultural risk insurance by 25.7%.

  • Improving the State’s Ability to Manage Disasters

    The World Bank’s First Resilient Kerala Program supported the approval of approximately $992 million worth of projects listed in the government’s Rebuild Kerala Development Program. These short and medium-term projects in 16 different sectors included the building of physical infrastructure such as multi-purpose emergency shelters and the construction and retrofitting of education and health infrastructure in hazard-prone areas to higher standards. More than 8,400,000 women and children have benefitted. Projects also built capacity of government departments and helped them adopt new protocols for managing emergencies. An online tool is now being developed for assessing investments in climate adaptation and mitigation. 

  • Introducing Risk-Informed Multi-Year Urban Planning

    Fueled by money from remittances, the state’s real estate boom led to unplanned development that increased the impacts of floods and landslides. The World Bank’s first program supported the amendment of the Town and Country Planning Act such that all Urban Local Bodies (ULBs) now incorporate disaster and climate risk in city master plans. The two ULBs of Chengannur and Mananthavady have already prepared and notified these plans. In addition, the ULBs of Kollam and Kozhikode have undertaken multi-year planning and budgeting of investment in municipal infrastructure. The engagement has also spurred early thinking around a roadmap/prototype for unified digital land records.

    In addition, the World Bank and KfW are helping build the capacity of local governments and municipal engineers for implementing new city master plans that incorporate disaster planning as well as energy conservation. Reforms have also been initiated to strengthen the resilience of critical urban infrastructure, improve design and construction standards and mobilize private sector expertise towards this effort.


  • Management Of Water Supply and Sanitation

    In the pre-monsoon summer months, many parts of the state face chronic water shortages as demand for water soars while water sources continue to shrink due to the rapid growth of built-up areas and the loss of vegetative cover. Over the years, a series of World Bank supported projects - Jalanidhi I (2000-2008) and Jalanidhi II (2001-2019) – have shown that poor rural communities are not only able to operate their own water supply systems but also make them financially sustainable. Under current Bank programs, three urban local bodies -Thiruvananthapuram, Kochi and Kozhikode – have reduced their non-revenue water losses and enhanced the recovery of O&M expenses. The Kerala Water Authority is now publishing its annual performance reports.

    Regarding solid waste, the Bank’s Kerala Solid Waste Management Project (2020) aims to establish an integrated solid waste management system that is financially, operationally, and environmentally sustainable. The project will support multiple activities at local and regional levels including the expansion of waste collection services, the development of facilities to recycle and manage waste, the remediation and closure of dumpsites, the development of scientific landfills, and the sanitization of government offices and hospitals. Technical work is also underway for the management of liquid and solid waste.

    Also see:             

    Getting water on tap in rural Kerala

    A self-help story - Kerala villagers put water on tap:

  • The 2018 floods highlighted the precarious nature of Kerala’s agriculture. In the Western Ghats, torrential rains and landslides wiped out large tracts of agricultural land and plantation crops, while the mid-lands and lowlands suffered massive flooding and large deposits of silt. Over a million farmers were affected and significant losses were incurred.

    To raise farmer incomes and make agriculture more resilient to climate change, the Bank supported the division of Kerala’s land into five agroecological zones, with the agriculture department being reorganized accordingly. These zones are: the coastal plains, midlands, foothills, high hills, and the Palakad plains in the Palakad Gap of the Western Ghats. The Kerala Agriculture University has since developed farming systems, plans, practices and budgets tailored for each of the 23 agroecological units in these zones, along with a comprehensive analysis for 11 crop-specific schemes. In the Pamba river basin, new farmer producer organizations have been established to improve farmers’ access to markets. The Bank program has also helped increase agriculture insurance. The next phase of the engagement is currently under preparation and hopes to develop inclusive and competitive climate resilient agri-food value chains for Micro, Small & Medium Enterprises and smallholder producers in all the agroecological zones.

  • Management of Water Resources

    To reduce the risk of floods and droughts and manage competing demands for water, the World Bank has helped introduce holistic river basin management and supported the state in preparing a draft Act to establish a River Basin Conservation and Management Authority (RBCMA). The Act will enable the integrated operation of reservoirs, the monitoring and collection of data, the forecasting of floods, and ensure that water is optimally allocated for different uses - agriculture, irrigation, domestic, industrial, and others. In the Pamba and Periyar river basins, an integrated river basin plan and flood forecasting system is also being prepared. If successful, this will be rolled out in other river basins too.

  • Roads

    Kerala has the highest share of roads per person in the country and its roads were the most affected by the floods of 2018 and 2019. Since roads are critical for rescue and recovery, the state has undertaken pioneering measures to design, build and maintain resilient roads. Under the World Bank engagement, a core road network has been identified for the state and over 400 kilometers of priority roads are being upgraded through performance-based maintenance contracts. Two of these contracts, awarded in August and November 2021, cover eight key road networks, of which four are in the hill districts of Idukki and Pathanamthitta. The Idukki road network serves a significant tribal population.  The Bank program has also supported greater budget allocation for the core road network, and the recently upgraded Kerala Highway Research Institute is introducing a battery of reforms to take the development agenda forward.


The Kaalavastha Podcast series captures the story behind Kerala’s journey towards a more resilient future. We follow multiple protagonists on this journey and get a behind-the-scenes look at the process of resilient development from the perspective of the communities, the government, scientists, the diaspora, World Bank experts, and even some e cultural voices from Kerala.


Episode 6 • 9th October 2020 • Kaalavastha: Kerala Podcast • World Bank



Conversation among Balakrishna Menon Parameswaran, Junaid Kamal Ahmad and Dr. Venu

(Facebook Live)



Reimagining Kerala Farm Sector