This flood was the first in history, in the living memory of Kashmir. More than 450 people are dead, and more than $1bn in destruction has been estimated. The actual magnitude of the total destruction, the number of dead and the people who are missing may not be known for some time. Kashmir Valley was cut off from the rest of the world for days. Thousands of villages have been submerged, including the capitol city of Srinagar. Hundreds of thousands of people particularly in the rural areas still remain trapped without any outside help or rescue and relief. There has been a total breakdown in communication with no telephone contact of the people with their loved ones Boats were not available. People had to stand on their rooftops waiting for someone to rescue them.
The state government has collapsed all together. They seem to have no control over the situation. Although the flood control department in Kashmir had predicted in 2010 that such a disaster was possible and they had reported it to the government of India, no action was taken. Why not? That’s the question which everyone is asking. Was it because of the deforestation, the centuries old melting of glaciers, or due to the recklessness of the trekkers (tourists)? These are the questions that need to be answered.
But the millions of affected people cannot wait until those answers are given. The struggle of millions of Kashmiris is the struggle of life and death. They are at the mercy of the outside world who always have helped and have proved able to assist those who are in real danger and who need their immediate attention.
We know that the issue is not political but a humanitarian and moral issue that should shake the conscience of humanity. It is worth noting as reported by the media that immediate rescue missions in the Valley were taken by Kashmiri youth who rescued thousands, not only Kashmiri families who were stranded but even the migrant Indian Hindu laborers. They even provided them with food and shelter.
This selflessness and the beauty of Kashmiri youth’s bravery needs to be appreciated. In the United States, the American youth of Kashmiri heritage have taken on the herculean task to initiate relief and disaster activity as well. They are doing it irrespective of their ideological preferences or cultural affiliations or regional backgrounds. They do have limited resources, but their eagerness to work has proved to be exemplary. They are a few hundred dedicated group of volunteers from all over the world. Their dedication and selflessness need to be highlighted. They have a clear objective. They are trying to establish relief camps and shelters, provide life saving medicines, clean water, food and clothes to the needy.
The atrociousness of the tragic situation should bring more cooperation and coordination to effectively help the needy with dignity and honor. There are some international agencies which are already operational in Kashmir like Save the Children, Action Aid, ICRC, and Handicap International. The enormity of the situation demands that the government of India seek assistance from other friendly countries including the United Nations. It will take years to rehabilitate millions of affected people that will need cooperation and coordination with foreign governments, international disaster agencies, and local civic society. The American Red Cross and USAID should get involved in the disaster relief activities. The passivity and inaction in this tragedy is deplorable and not an option. This is not a time for the blame game but time to take responsibility and show humanness by taking immediate action in rescue and relief operations. This needs the coordinated efforts by allowing the foreign and disaster agencies to work without any hindrance in Kashmir and to take all possible measures, including rescue missions, relief and rehabilitation.
We are dismayed to know that the government of India has not accepted the relief assistance offered by the United Nations. The spokesperson of the United Nations Secretary General “The UN system stands ready to help governments in India and Pakistan in their efforts to provide relief and assistance to the hundreds impacted by the severe floods in Kashmir, a spokesperson for UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said on Monday.”
He, however, added that he is not aware whether the UN agencies in India have received any official request from the government for help in relief and rescue operations.
Reuters reported Sept 13, 2014, “Residents stranded for days by the floodwaters said that the army has selectively evacuated tourists and people according to a preset priority list, leaving locals to be rescued later by volunteers.”
This is not going to help the helpless people of Kashmir who are in immediate need of assistance by the government of India. Dr. Rita Pal, a medical journalist from England, has given her wisdom by saying, “it is therefore time to put people before religion and lives before politics.” Let us hope that message gets through.