Time to rebuild

While the task of rescuing people who were stranded in Uttarakhand after last month’s catastrophic flash floods is over, the bigger task of rebuilding the state from ruins remains. 

Most of the large number of pilgrims and tourists, except the unfortunate ones who perished, have been evacuated and are back in their homes. But a much larger number of people who are residents of the affected areas are trapped in their own broken homes and cut-off villages, and they cannot go anywhere. They need food, medicines, safe shelters and even clothes. The approaching winter, which is harsh in the upper reaches of the state, will make these needs more urgent. There are genuine complaints from the local population that they were left uncared for when attention was focussed on the immediate rescue efforts.

Livelihoods of most people are in danger. Almost all the villages and townships were dependent on income from tourism and pilgrimage, as there is no other major economic activity in the region. Tourism and pilgrimage will take time to resume and it is likely that these will be regulated in future. People will need sustainable income in the coming months and years.

Large funds are needed for the rebuilding of the state with all its damaged houses, roads, bridges and other infrastructure. The Central government has promised aid but this will not be enough. There are proposals to seek help from the World Bank and multilateral agencies like the ADB, but this will involve delays and may even come with terms and conditions. Some business houses have offered help. The government should take the initiative to tap their resources as part of their corporate social responsibility plans. A national effort involving all sections of society is needed to put the state and the affected people back on their feet.   
A comprehensive rebuilding plan suited to the fragile environment of the region will have to be drawn up. This should involve architects, environments, engineers and experts from various other fields. The impact of the floods was aggravated by the haphazard constructions all over the region which flouted environmental norms and rules and regulations which were themselves inadequate. A heavy price has been paid for that unsustainable exploitation of nature. The region and the lives of people there should be rebuilt for a safe future, avoiding the past mistakes.

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