By Krati Gupta
Edited by Madhavi Roy, Associate Editor, The Indian Economist
Jammu and Kashmir has been hit by the worst floods of the past 60 years, one that has been termed a ”National level disaster” by the Prime Minister, Narendra Modi. The death toll has climbed up to 277 and approximately 2.26 lakh people have been rescued by the Indian Army till date. The flood also created havoc in Pakistan occupied Kashmir (POK), where at least 160 people died and around 5,000 homes were destroyed on the very first day. Villages have been submerged, electrical cables have snapped, vital roads are under water and thousands have been rendered homeless. The most affected districts on the Jammu side are Rajouri, Udhampur and Reasi, and on the Kashmir side are Pulwama, Srinagar, Anantnag and Budgam. The Chief Minister of the state Omar Abdullah labelled the situation as ”unprecedented” and asked people to remain patient, promising that they would be rescued.
In a saga of death and devastation, some of the rescued had to stay without food and water for several days while thousands of others remained stranded on their roof tops waiting for help. People even saw the water current carrying bodies of the deceased, thereby abandoning all hopes of their survival. Also there exists an increasing fear of water borne diseases once the water recedes. The scarcity of clean drinking water and the ill-equipped relief camps will only fuel the spread of diseases like measles and diarrhoea. All the major hospitals in Srinagar are either fully or partially submerged and this only deepens the fear. Although the health department has set up medical centres at relief camps but a lack of communication facilities have hampered their attempts of contacting the flood affected population.
Amidst all this there have been instances of stone pelting at the rescuers. A section of people are believing in the hearsay that the rescue operation is based on some kind of ‘priority rescue’ set on communal lines. This has further made the Armed Forces’ and National Disaster Response Force’s (NDRF) personnel’s task difficult.
An analysis of the current situation reveals that the nature’s fury unleashed in Jammu and Kashmir is the result of man- made blunders committed due to the ever-increasing greed for economic growth. It seems the government has not learnt any lessons from the two recent major disasters- The landslides in Pune in July 2014 and massive flooding in Uttarakhand in June 2013, where the unchecked developmental activities triggered the disaster. In a similar manner, increased pressure on land and resulting deforestation weakened the already fragile ecology of Kashmir. Quoting Sunita Narain, head of Centre for Science and Environment,” two things occurred simultaneously-one, rainfall has intensified due to climate change, which becomes even worse in Himalayas due to landslides and two, developmental activities are largely undermining the drainage system.” The valley’s lifeline Jhelum has turned into a dumping site, due to large increase in population as well as industrial activities coming up on its flood channels.
Also the top disaster management body, the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) is facing vacancies at a critical time like this. The task force found many faults in the working of NDMA, and stated in its report that the biggest problem with the NDMA is no representation in the Home Ministry which coordinates all the disaster response activities.
A reconstruction of the disaster suggested that it could have been averted if the state authorities had paid attention to opening up of crucial embankments in uninhabited areas of southern Kashmir. This would have led to substantial quantities of water being drained off and Srinagar would have been saved from being as badly submerged as it currently is. The state authorities didn’t consider the option nor did they pay heed to India Meteorological Department’s forecast of ‘‘heavy to extremely heavy rainfall” in the beginning of September.
It’s really disheartening to learn that a proposal by Central Water Commission (CWC) to set up ‘flood monitoring stations’ is lying pending since five years- making Jammu and Kashmir the only flood prone state without an adequate flood warning system in place!
The rescued people complain that they were alerted via the public address systems in local mosques but no specific directions were provided. Thus, the inaction displayed by the Government at such a crucial hour led to angry locals pelting stone at CM Omar’s residence. The grave situation may even lead to postponement of assembly polls and an imposition of Governor’s rule in the state.
The tragedy has occurred and the scale of disaster will only become clear once the water fully recedes. Thousands of people are still searching for their missing family members: there is no food to feed the children, no clean drinking water and no medical facilities in place.
It’s time for the Government , the national and local level disaster management bodies as well as the common man to learn their own respective lessons from the disaster , to analyse the reasons behind it and to plug all the loopholes beforehand , so that one never has to go through such a catastrophe again.Krati is currently a Pre final year student pursuing chemical engineering from Motilal Nehru National Institute of Technology, Allahabad. She loves watching movies and posing for pictures. Apart from juggling between the concepts of thermodynamics and heat transfer during college hours, she is a greenhorn at writing and is highly optimistic about exploring the vast horizon in this field . She believes penning down her thoughts will make at least a small difference to the world.