As epidemic fears loom, Kashmir poised to become India's 'Katrina'

New Delhi: The flood in Kashmir is India’s first urban catastrophe, comparable only to the Hurricane Katrina that had flooded the US city of New Orleans, Louisiana in 2005. It would require national effort to get the state back on its feet. This is what a ministerial team of the Jammu and Kashmir government has apparently conveyed to Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

After nearly a week-long absence from the scene of devastation in Kashmir, five ministers of the Omar Abdullah government led by Finance Minister Abdul Rahim Rather on Saturday showed up in Delhi for a meeting with Modi. Rather is believed to have told the PM that it is beyond the capacity of the state to deal with the flood aftermath. The meeting lasted about an hour after which the ministers flew to Srinagar.

Explaining absence of the Omar Abdullah government in the flood relief operations, Rather told the prime minister that he himself was stuck inside a government building in Srinagar which got deluged when he was chairing a meeting. Rather, a veteran of many elections, was rescued on Friday. Many of his colleagues were also trapped in deep flood waters. With communication system collapsing, there was no way the Omar Abdullah government could put its act together, the minister told the PM seeking a massive assistance from the Centre for restoring normalcy in Kashmir post floods.

The Omar government is apparently not apologetic about the absence of the civilian authority from the week-long rescue operations. While the Army, Indian Air Force, National Disaster Rescue Force and Navy had launched all out operations for rescuing lakhs of people from their deluged homes, the total absence of the civilian government had sent a jarring note all around.

Quoting the Oklahoma flooding by Hurricane Katrina, Rather is believed to have told the prime minister plainly that no civilian government in the world is ready to face such a calamity. He also informed that the besides dealing with material relief and compensation for the lives lost in the floods, the Omar Andullah government has to immediately deal with following priorities:

Kashmiri walk past a breached river bank of the River Jhelum in Srinagar. AP

Kashmiri walk past a breached river bank of the River Jhelum in Srinagar. AP

Carcass: Srinagar, where flooded waters have nearly receded, had some 50,000 stray dogs. Their carcasses would be rotting and need to be disposed of on priority basis to contain the spread epidemics. Srinagar city would need a comprehensive plan to deal with public health issues like spread of water born diseases, skin allergies, respiratory diseases etc.

Connectivity: The road connectivity would need massive efforts to get restored. This is crucial not only for the movement of people but also for goods. Even a day’s delay in restoring the arterial NH1 that links Kashmir to the rest of the world would cost Ladakh region, which is unaffected so far, dearly. The region remains cut off from the rest of the country from October and needs to build huge stocks of food, fuel and other essentials to tide over seven months. All the supplies come from this highway.

Huge damage: A large number of houses in old quarter of Srinagar and Anantnag could collapse in coming days and weeks under the impact of the flood. This requiring massive cash relief burden for the state. As such the migrant labour, which forms the backbone of local economy had left the state in hordes and are unlikely to return soon. This could create a labour crisis in the state.

Records: As most of the government buildings have been inundated, the state government faces a unique situation of damaged and possibly lost records. This leaves a lot of scope for manipulation and fraud. There is a great possibility that the crucial archival records in the AIR, Srinagar and Archive department and the Museum may have been lost forever. Interestingly, all these buildings are located on the banks on Jhelum and flood canals.

Winter: The approaching winter brings its own share of worries for the people as well as government. Generally, Kashmir Valley stocks essential commodities to deal with any weather related emergency that impacts connectivity with the rest of the world. The problem arises as the Jammu and Kashmir government shifts its seat to Jammu for six months in October.

Food crisis: Ensuring food supply, a fair distribution system and keeping food prices under control are going to be a few major challenges for the Abdullah government. Also the government would need a lot of grains from the centre to deal with the exigency.

Insurgency: October usually sees a spurt in insurgency with armed militants making last ditch attempts to infiltrate into Kashmir from across the line of control and the army taking on them. With the Army still stuck in the relief and rescue, will it mean a let up in checking the intruders in Kashmir’s hinterland?

Updated Date: Sep 15, 2014 09:16 AM

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