NEW DELHI: The torrential rain water floods have turned Jammu and Kashmir into a gigantic human tragedy. Rescue operations are only just gathering pace with thousands still stranded with cries for relief in the form of drinking water and food from all sides becoming a pressing urgency.

The Citizen has been receiving messages and calls only for drinking water, with the marooned families now not as worried about being rescued as getting the basic necessities to live. Voluntary groups are trying to reach drinking water to the people along with food packets but so far the relief operations have been minimalist, and certainly not indicative of a government ---state or centre--- in control.

The Citizen Principal Correspondent Tawqeer Hussain reports from Anantnag that at least 400 villages in South Kashmir have been submerged and several literally washed away. The last include Dahrun, Shamspora, Aadgatun, Kaindzaal and others that have simply ceased to exist. The deaths are still being assessed but these are expected to be far more than the current figure of 200 that has been given out by the government.

Anger against the Omar Abdullah government is engulfing the state. The Chief Minister’s complete apathy has turned friends into critics, with every single person spoken to speaking of the state government’s abject failure to inform the residents and ensure that the villages were evacuated well in time. In fact despite the fact that the rain waters had engulfed South Kashmir and were racing across the land towards Srinagar, the chief minister seemed to be totally oblivious of the danger posed by the advancing waters. The government did not move to issue warnings, to sound sirens, to use loudspeakers to ask people to evacuate. It was as if there was no government at all. The waters in the capital rose within hours to 18 feet during the night with the people in complete panic. Loss of life has been reported from Srinagar itself but again the figures are still not available in real terms.

Chief Minister Abdullah has been just defending himself since, first insisting that the government was well in control and now claiming that the government itself was washed away by the floods. It was in the last days, but till then Srinagar was functional, except that the state government was not. Alarm bells were not rung by Srinagar even in Delhi, with the Army being the only visible government agency on the ground.

Despite the efforts to politicise this by some vested interests in Kashmir, the people are by and large singing praise of the soldiers. The anger against the state government is boiling over but the villagers in Kulgam and Anantnag told The Citizen that they were indebted to the Army. “Indian army personnel used tube boats to rescue us and took us to the safe areas, they gave us water and other necessities, we are truly indebted to them,” said Farooq Ahmad of Gassipora village in Anantnag where hundreds of people were rescued by the Army. This was the refrain throughout, as despite the brave efforts of young Kashmiris across the affected districts, there were many areas that only the soldiers could reach.

Drinking water and food has now become a huge issue. The Citizen, quoting Kashmiris has been pointing this out for at least a couple of days but while some supplies have been organised, the state government has again not tackled this mammoth task with any sense of urgency. Officials of the Union Home Ministry have only now flown down to Srinagar to oversee this all important aspect, as Kashmiris point out that any number of the trapped people can die of starvation. The Citizen encountered hundreds of villagers in Kulgam district literally crying out for water and food, most of them starving now for days. All who heard them were in tears, and while the messages have changed from “save us” to “we need drinking water” the authorities have still to substantiate the rescue operations with relief.

Medicine will be the next urgent item on the list as experts here fear a massive outbreak of waterborne diseases. This at a time when thousands---many estimate lakhs--- still remain trapped, with resources still not sufficient to cope with the demand. Political parties have all disappeared with only voluntary groups and individuals now starting to call for medicines, drinking water, food and blankets. Needless to say this, while welcome, will not be able to deal with the disaster in any significant fashion.

The waters are freezing and the nights have become cold all over the Valley. The people have lost their homes, and their belongings and most are trapped in drenched clothes and no blankets. Clothes, shoes, blankets are all of utmost necessity and there is no information as yet what the state and central governments are doing about this.

At this stage no one is even looking at the colossal damage to the infrastructure across the state. People have lost their villages and their houses, but at the moment the struggle to survive has assumed highest priority. The social media has become a lifeline with messages for help, for life saving drugs, for contributions, for finding lost relatives, along with offers of help just pouring in. There is an amazing unity within, with Kashmiris of all regions, caste and hue coming together to help each other at all levels. It is as if the political man made differences have been wiped out with several Kashmiri pandits living in the Valley joining issue with some misguided elements outside the state seeking to polarise even the natural calamity.