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SEEMA MUSTAFA | 11 SEPTEMBER, 2014

Water Recede Slowly, Anger Rises Sharply in J&K as a Crisis of Confidence Engulfs The State

Rescue efforts in Jammu and Kashmir


NEW DELHI: The waters are receding in Jammu and Kashmir but the anger is rising with every passing hour. Officials on duty have been attacked and helicopters pelted by irate families who have spent the past days in highly traumatic conditions with the torrential rain waters reaching as high as 20 feet in areas, blackout, zero connectivity, no food or drinking water, with no idea whether help would reach them and if so, when.

Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Omar Abdullah who ignored the meteorological warnings of heavy rains in the initial stages, now says that he understood the anger of the people as at least “they are alive to shout slogans, I have no problems.”

"It is an unprecedented situation. In nobody's life time, we remember water to be at this level. It is something nobody could have prepared for. The efforts of the central government, army, air force and state government and operations have been ramped up. Supplies are arriving and we are doing our best to rescue people," he said.

The Chief Minister said there was no "weakness" in coordination between the forces on ground and the state government is working together with the armed forces. "I am in touch with the Army, the Navy and trying to make sure that the right stuff reaches the right place and we are able to achieve the stuff properly. We are not able to communicate with the people," he said. He said the main source of worry for him was the likely spread of diseases after the water level in flood-hit areas recedes.

There is a major crisis of confidence in Jammu and Kashmir, with surprisingly more faith in the Army than in the state government’s ability or even intent. The Army has launched huge relief operations (for details see The Citizen report on Front Page and Border Page) but the situation is still not in control. The rains have stopped but the threat remains, and while the waters have started receding the movement is so slow that it is almost invisible.

The met warnings of heavy rains for days met with no response from the state government. The Kashmiris started warning of the same as the rain waters started swirling in South Kashmir with the social media flooded (no pun intended) with messages and warnings. Again there was no response with the heavy rains finally breaching the dams leading to the current unmitigated disaster. There was no effort at any stage to take stock of the situation, to press in boats and vehicles to evacuate people from the far flung areas in particular, and sound warnings across the state.

The environmental decay in Jammu and Kashmir caused by deforestation and mass constructions has robbed the state of a drainage system that is inbuilt in the ecology if not tampered with by man. The rain waters had no escape path, and within days assumed the form of torrential floods that raced through Jammu and Kashmir, destroying everything on its way. Families who felt they were safe found the waters at their doorstep suddenly, rising to the top floors within hours without any warning whatsoever.

The National Disaster Response Force that was set up for setting the policies, and guidelines for disaster management in the form of a specialist response system did not issue any prior warnings. It was constituted after the Orissa Super Cyclone of 1999 and the Gujarat earthquake in 2000 to assess possible threats and work with the state governments for immediate remedial measures. The NDRF involved in the rescue operations now, had no idea of the impending calamity, and like the rest of the government departments remained oblivious and completely unaware of the havoc that the rainfall could and would cause.Set up at considerable expenditure to ensure minimal loss of life the NDRF has clearly not put the exchequer’s money to any use. As always despite the loud rhetoric and promises by governments after every major natural calamity, the concerned departments and institutions go to sleep and react only after the event when the damage has taken place.

The first institution to be on the ground was the Army but the first three days of incessant rains after the authorities recognised the seriousness of the situation, it found itself unable to move. Helicopters could not fly, and the Army soldiers themselves were stranded while trying to rescue terrified families from the flood hit localities. By the first four to five days Srinagar was completely inundated raising alarm bells in Delhi finally, that led to the visit of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to the state.

Efforts to get relief to the villages of South Kashmir of which at least four are said to have completely disappeared under the water---and there could be many more__failed as the Army was also unable to reach the area because of the rains. Large loss of life is being reported from these villages but till now no official assessment has been made. Residents said that locals formed rescue squads and tried to save the families, but no word has still emerged about the fate of the villagers in the difficult terrain.

The central government and the national media, interestingly, recognised the extent of the disaster only after the Prime Minister’s visit when it started making the headlines in the print and electronic media. The long delay with the state government not visible on the ground led to panic with the posts on social media crying out for help, actually wondering whether this would even be organised for them. At a time when the Kashmiri leaders should have taken the lead be these the government, the opposition or the separatists in organising relief along with the local residents they all disappeared to the last man and woman. Several Kashmiris wondered at this, and told The Citizen that there was equal anger at the moment against the government and the Kashmiri leaders none of whom have been heard from since the first signs of rain water flooding.

Efforts to organise relief are afoot in Delhi and other cities with organisations now looking at the post flood situation and the setting in of winter. Large scale reconstruction has to be organised by the government and the authorities, with the small organisations starting the collection for drinking water, medicines, blankets and other basic necessities the people will need once they are evacuated to safer ground, and the waters start receding. Relief camps are supposed to have been set up but there is little word about these, as people continue to search for their families, with telephone lines limping back slowly and in some parts of the state.

Indian ex-servicemen organisations have come out with appeals for donations for the flood affected people, as have other non government organisations. The beginning is small but it is expected to gather pace. The chief minister has spoken of relief after the floods, but so far there is little indication either at the centre or in the state that this very important aspect is being tackled on a war footing. Water borne diseases, the lack of potable drinking water, medicines and healthcare will be areas of major concern as will of course be the reconstruction of the destroyed infrastructure with winter setting in.

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