Grim situation

Jammu and Kashmir is reeling under its worst floods in 60 years.  Vast swathes of the state, especially in the Kashmir Valley, are submerged. Media reports say that Srinagar, a city of 9 lakh people, has turned into a ‘giant lake,’ with even two-storey houses under water. The situation in rural Kashmir is said to be worse and tens of thousands of people are trapped and awaiting rescue. So far, over 200 people are reported to have perished but the death toll can rise in the coming days as flood waters are still rising. Several parts of J&K are cut off and it is only when the waters recede and rescue operations reach the remote villages that we will have a clearer picture of the extent of death and damage wrought by the floods. Following an aerial survey of flood hit J&K, Prime Minister Narendra Modi described the situation as a “national level calamity.” An aid package of Rs.1,000 crore has been extended to the state. The Indian Army and the Indian Air Force are playing an important role in the rescue operations but bad weather and difficult terrain are slowing the process. The Kashmiri people are suffering and the rest of India must reach out to them in their time of need.

While rescue and relief is the immediate priority, authorities must begin planning their medium and long-term strategies. The problem of water-borne diseases looms. Houses have been destroyed by the flooding. In a few weeks from now, autumn will set in and after that, J&K will be plunged in freezing temperatures.  Temporary shelters will not suffice in these hostile weather conditions. Over the long-run, India needs to correct its approach to development. While water levels rose in J&K’s rivers because of incessant rain, the multiple problems it brought in its wake are the outcome of unplanned and unsustainable development. Environmentalists are blaming rapid urbanisation, building encroachment of wetlands, especially around Srinagar, and massive construction activity along the banks of rivers for the flooding.

In a few months from now, J&K will go to the polls. Political parties will be tempted to use the issue of the rescue/relief efforts to score points over their rivals. Politicising a calamity is in poor taste and parties need to refrain from dividing people on the question of relief measures. J&K confronts a massive challenge but it can tide over this crisis if its people and politicians pull together in the same direction.

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