THE BLOG

Troubled Waters in Kashmir

16/09/2014 14:45 BST | Updated 15/11/2014 10:59 GMT

In 2010, a little known report predicted the catastrophic 2014 Kashmir floods. Greater Kashmir wrote wrote

"Highly placed sources in the state government revealed that the Jammu and Kashmir Flood Control Ministry has issued a warning that the summer capital of the state is likely to face a major flood catastrophe in next five years and the department has nothing in place to save the human lives and property".

Despite this warning there was no pre and post disaster management planning .This is despite severe weather warnings days in advance.It was therefore no surprise that aid workers described the rescue effort as "chaotic and inadequate" with more than 400 people dead and 1 million people displaced.

Action was significantly delayed with the Indian army attempting a reactive duck-taped emergency response with a donations drive following the collapse of local government infrastructure [Reuters].

A local resident, Mr Mohammad Jahangir said

"The army came to help after 3 days after saving VIPs and tourists, they even had been given lists of people to be saved, exact location (latitude longitude). Until then a lot of people died, 40 babies in a children's hospital. The real heroes are Kashmiri youth who risked their lives" .

While the local government is blamed [BBC] Mr Rameez Makhdoomi, an eminent journalist in Kashmir commented :-

"If the army taking centerstage administration weak it signifies that Indian democracy has failed in kashmir as in democratic societies administration takes lead army follows".

Others I spoke to were convinced that there was a political motive to prove the local government incompetent due to the up and coming elections

Indian occupied Kashmir has tolerated decades of conflict sustaining significant losses and human rights abuses resulting in a high incidence of post traumatic stress . This has naturally led to antagonism between them and the Indian army. They now find themselves homeless with no livelihood and no hope that the Indian government will offer rehabilitation once the army leaves. Their anger was described by the Washington Post  while the Indian channel NDTV reported on the impending closure of the army canteens that many relied upon.

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It is clear that while the army tried their best, it was not enough. Many were left to their own devices in a case of survival of the fittest. The brave local volunteers made makeshift boats with whatever was able to float. Individuals like, Mr Sajad Mohiuddin Sheikh were left to rescue trapped labourers. Due to the extreme shortage of boats he found himself on a single handed journey to buy boats from New Delhi. Journalists were forced to rescue 300 people trapped in Srinagar  and some young rescuers lost their lives.

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Rameez Makhdoomi confirmed "Relief efforts are scattered and most efforts by government and non government look more of a publicity stunt rather than aiming at reaching sufferers". The Washington Post criticised the army response to the hungry "Instead of moving in to help keep order among the starving crowd, Indian army soldiers watched from a parapet next door, laughing and filming the scene on their smartphones."

More than one week into the disaster, large parts of Kashmir still lies under water, its infrastructure including hospitals have been wiped out. Only two hospitals remain barely operational despite a severe shortage of essential supplies. [ Tribune ]. Due to severe shortages, local doctors have tried to cope. Many complain of a failure of communication between medical staff, patients and the army.

Anger and resentment is growing. Despite the offer of UN assistance , the Indian government remains silent on its acceptance of outside help. This is not the first time this position has been adopted [WMT]. A hospital volunteer told me that aid sent from charities abroad was being blocked at the airport. On the 14th September 2014, Dr Musadir Firdosi, wrote "Shame airlines have been told not to carry relief material for 3 days from Delhi to Srinagar, only carry govt/army supplies". His family had attempted to send aid to Kashmir. It is unclear whether these obstacles are bureaucratic or planned.

Despite the cries for help for UN support from survivors in Kashmir, 2 petitions online [signed by more than 6000 people], local leaders and human rights groups, the Indian government stands firm on its misguided self sufficiency despite its obvious incompetence . With dead bodies and animals rotting in stagnant water, it is a matter of time before waterborne diseases risks the lives of the local population. Long term risks from mental health consequences of this disaster appear to have been overlooked. It is a tragic situation when Indian politics, nationalism and pride appears to come before lives of the people of Kashmir. One hopes India accepts United Nations offer and other international aid before its too late.

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