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FLOODED KASHMIR – A FORTNIGHT LATER

By Dr Syed Zafar Mahmood, President, Zakat Foundation of India, New Delhi

ZFI's boat & team in Kashmir

ZFI’s boat & team in Kashmir

Kashmir has once again been vitiated – now by the Nature. There has already been recent history of adversities of different hues. The poor Kashmiris somehow continue to be at the receiving end: from the times of the Maharaja’s self-centered rule to the couldn’t care less attitude of the successive chief ministers to the demoralizing militancy since 1988 to the hurting earthquake of 2008 to the drowning floods of 2014.  For centuries the societal actors have only been enjoying Kashmir’s cool and panoramic beauty but have hardly invested into the infrastructure, basic amenities of life, educational facilities, connectivity. There has always been a feeling of an unfortunate inherent bias at the other end.

As per general perception, out of 2.5m of the people in Kashmir valley about 1.5m have been adversely affected in different ways by the floods of September 2014. At the peak adversity during 8-15 Sept water level in the capital city of Srinagar hovered around 14 feet and much higher in the southern parts of the valley. Loss of human lives due to inability to rescue oneself in time is anybody’s guess. The Government says it is a little above
200 but that too must be a guesstimate as real survey can be possible only
after a few days when the water fully drains off everywhere. Similarly, as per the Government announcement, the number of persons that got stuck on upper floors of their houses began from 600,000 and kept on going down in later days as the Defence Forces’ choppers and boats kept on rescuing them.

On Sept 10 itself Zakat Foundation of India [ZFI: ZakatIndia.org] had realized that the Central Government needed to directly supervise the rescue & relief operations rather than leaving these to the provincial government as the former is in a higher command and is better equipped; also the number of choppers and boats deployed by the Government had to be hiked several fold. ZFI members & others staged a sit-in demonstration near the seat of Government in New Delhi and submitted their memorandum to the prime minister. That was covered by electronic & print media. It paid off. In 24 hours both the demands were accepted by the Government.

For ten days to two weeks the ground floors of all houses in 60% of different areas of the valley were fully under water and in many cases even a portion of the first floor. Now, after two weeks, 80% of the water has drained out and about 2-3 feet high water remains in different areas. When the ZFI truck laden with supply bags reaches these areas and wades through the water the waves so created are, at times, sufficiently forceful to fell the walls of the adjoining houses that have become brittle due to being inundated for 10 days or more. Animal carcasses have been adding to the pollution woes; later, many of these have been dissolved through chemicals under specialized government supervision after ZFI advocated this at high level.

As the efforts of the Government agencies had limitations of time, human imagination, internal coordination and financial constraints – yet hundreds of thousands desperately needed help every moment – we at Zakat Foundation of India sprang into action since Sept 8 itself. We scouted around India’s coastal cities and were able to purchase nine inflatable rubber boats that could accommodate 10 persons each and got them airlifted to Srinagar where our team had arrived in advance. We also got airlifted 100 life saving jackets. We recruited about 30 local volunteers and provided 18 hour rescue support daily for 15 days.

Thus, ZFI has been instrumental in saving about 6,000 persons’ life and shifting another 9,000 out of helpless loneliness. Besides, ZFI has been airlifting about 20 cartons of supply daily from New Delhi to Srinagar and distributing these among the people that remained trapped for two weeks or so. These cartons have been carrying drinking water, torches, batteries, candles (the valley had no electric supply for ten days), cereals and oil, milk, sugar, tea, dates, medicines & surgical items, sanitary napkins, chlorine tablets for cleaning water, phenyl, blankets, etc. Doctors have been deployed. ZFI has been working in these colonies of Srinagar: Tangpur, Hamdaniya, Numbrish, Firdausabad, Sarsadbad, Qamarwadi, Batmalo, Bal Garden, Kiran Nagar and many more. We’ve also gone to South Kashmir.

Now the work of rehabilitating half a million people who have practically become internally displaced persons (IDPs) is a huge challenge. The valley needs to be cleaned up and disinfected. Most of the houses have to be re-built or reinforced. In the intervening period alternate accommodation and plastic sheets/mattresses/quilts/blankets are to be organized for tens of thousands. Cleaning up and restoring the normal utility of places of worship is ZFI’s priority. ZFI teams are still working in Kashmir and will continue to do so till needed.

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