Authorities are struggling to prevent waterborne diseases from spreading in Jammu and Kashmir with vast swathes of land still submerged under stagnant water more than a week after the state’s worst floods in more than a century.
Relief teams distributed food, water and medicines to thousands of people still stuck in partially submerged homes, but fears of disease grew with carcasses of livestock floating in muddy waters on Srinagar’s streets.
The stench of the rotting carcasses was almost unbearable for people in some parts of Srinagar, a city of more than a million people.
Residents of Chattabal area complained of the stink from flotsam and slimy silt as they waited for the government to fumigate and disinfect the fetid water. Some sprayed phenyl and bleaching powder provided by some relief camps, but the decomposing carcasses of more than 315 cows in Chattabal were a serious health risk.
“Unless disposed off quickly, these carcasses pose a grave threat to the people of Chattabal which is submerged under water,” said Naqshab, a volunteer with Athrot, a charity that helped during the 2005 Kashmir earthquake.
Authorities have been trying to drain out the water and provide clean water to people, but a shortage of pumps hampered their efforts.
"Stagnant water is much more dangerous than flowing water," said Dr. Showkat Zargar, the director of the Sher-i-Kashmir Institute of Medical Sciences (SKIMS), one of the few functioning hospitals in the city. "There are a lot of animals that have died," he said. "This is the biggest source of infection."
The central government has sent 13 tonnes of water purifying tablets and 24 water filtration plants with a capacity to filter 1 lakh litres a day to Srinagar.
With most parts of the old city cut off from hospitals, a group of doctors from a local hospital decided to operate from a mosque.
They have converted the main prayer hall into a pharmacy while specialists provide ENT, opthalmology, dentistry and gastroenterology services from five tables in a compound. Another small room has been marked as an orthopaedics unit. Doctors have examined about 2,000 patients and provided free medicines since Wednesday.
But most hospitals have been running out of medicines and equipment after the floods that have left more than 200 people dead. Charities and volunteer groups working for flood victims have also been providing a steady supply of medicines.
"Our medical headquarters is totally under water. It is very difficult to deal with critical cases. Thousands of patients need antibiotics and diabetics require insulin," said Dr Hina Rahman.
Doctors warned that getting waterlogged hospitals working again would be tough because basement store rooms were flooded and expensive equipment like magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and X-ray machines ruined.
People have been coming in with respiratory infections and gastric problems, said Zubair Khwaja, a doctor who normally works at Sher-i-Kashmir Institute of Medical Sciences but has been volunteering with the Muslim Students Board, a group that runs a religious school in Srinagar.
With acres of stagnant water remaining in the city, Khwaja warned that the risk of waterborne diseases would increase. "You can smell the air," he said.
(With agency inputs)