Sometime this month, Kulwant Singh's three-storey house was to be decked up with fairy lights for his daughterfs wedding. Instead, the 50-year-old father watches solemnly as masons rebuild his house, brick-by-brick. The businessmanfs home was reduced to rubble in the floods of September 2014.
"My daughter's bridal wear, wedding trousseau and jewellery were all ready by then. The flood waters ruined the clothes and swept away all the gold," says Singh. "The groom's family tried hard to convince us to not cancel the wedding and that the gold could be made later as well. But how could we send our daughter empty handed?"
His house was among the 180 in Jawahar Nagar, Srinagar, which were destroyed. Another 200 suffered extensive damage in the worst-ever floods in the region's recorded history.
After experiencing erratic weather for more than six months — unprecedented floods followed by delayed snowfall and unseasonal rains — the sun is finally shining on the Valley.
Like Singh, others, too, are trying to rebuild their homes and lives. But the process is a difficult one.
A large quantity of agriculture produce has been destroyed, jeopardising the livelihood of many. Children haven’t attended schools for over six months now and many continue to live in temporary houses. The state government has neither been able to disburse enough funds to resurrect all the destroyed structures, nor compensate every flood victim. The constant struggle, of citizens, desperate to fix their lives, to avail the limited resources has also damaged the social fabric of the northern state, says Abdhesh Kumar Gangwar, programme director, Centre for Environment Education, Himalaya and North East.
The aftermath of the deluge is visible in many bylanes of the Valley. Mattresses dry on rotting wooden almirahs, debris of stone and brick, cleared from flooded houses, line the roads, and stagnant waters covered with algae pose a great risk of outbreak of diseases.
“As the temperature rises, the threat of an outbreak of water-borne diseases such as gastroenteritis, hepatitis A and hepatitis E and other water-borne parasitic infections looms large over the Valley,” says Dr Saleem Khan, from community of health and preventive medicine, Government Medical College, Srinagar.
The floods have also affected the mental well-being of many children and adults. Many of them are showing early signs of post-traumatic stress disorders. “For children, losing a doll in the floods or not being able to go outdoors to enjoy an ice cream or to play football for more than six months can be depressing,” says Tabish SA, professor and head of hospital administration department, Sher-i-Kashmir Institute of Medical Sciences. “Parents, especially those whose kids have not been able to go to their destroyed schools are anxious about their future. Adults are also trying to cope with the pressure of fixing their disturbed lives.”
The rains in September coincided with the harvesting season, destroying large quantity of rice, the region’s staple food, and saffron bulbs. The flood waters continue to inundate fields, risking the future produce. Even the apple growers are uncertain about the yield of the famed Kashmiri fruit. They have been spraying large quantities of fungicides and pesticides, mixed with kerosene, over acres of bare apple orchards, waiting for the trees to flower. “The large amount of pesticide and fungicide will seep deep into the soil, contaminating ground water, which will have an impact in the long run on people’s health,” adds Khan.
Rice farmer Waja Haji Asadullah’s five acre land at Shahtalpora, Bandipora, is still inundated with water. His entire crop, worth Rs 2 lakh, was destroyed in the rains, forcing him to do menial construction jobs. “I would usually get about 25kg of rice from my field every year. But as the flood waters have not yet drained from my farm, I am expecting just 25% of my average produce,” says Asadullah. “I feel helpless. I didn’t even get any compensation from the government for the damaged crop.”
Similar is the story of saffron growers in Pampore, home to 90% saffron crop grown in the region. As much as 70% of the crop spread across 3,674 hectares in the area was completely destroyed. Figures from the state agriculture department reveal Jammu & Kashmir annually produces around 3.83 tonnes saffron out of which an estimated 11.17 tonnes was lost to floods, amounting to an approximate loss of Rs 860 crore. Saffron grower Noor Mohammed managed to get just 1/2kg of saffron from his 10-acre land in Pampore. “Usually my farm yields 3.5kg every year. But last year’s floods destroyed majority of the saffron bulbs,” says Mohammed. “Inshallah, the season in October will be better.”
“Farmers will have to adapt with the help of technological research as climate change cannot be managed with fertilisers and pesticides,” says ecologist Tej Partap, vicechancellor, Sher-e-Kashmir University of Agricultural Sciences and Technology, while speaking at a workshop organised by CEE, The Third Pole and the Indian Himalayas Climate Change Adaption Programme, in Srinagar. “We need to continuously monitor and study changes in the weather in different regions of the state,”
Back in Srinagar, the devastation by the floods serves as an every day reminder of the deluge.
LIMITED HELP AT HAND
The state government is grappling to tackle the herculean task of compensating a large number of flood victims. A total of 6,782 villages, of which 741 remained submerged for weeks, were flooded, affecting 18 lakh households. According to the state government’s data, a total 21,485 houses were damaged, of which 4,700 severely. Only 1,690 house owners have received compensations.
The failure of the government to drain out the flood water has turned two adjoining villages of Bandipora district, in north Kashmir, into enemies. Earlier this month, Central Reserve Police Force and local police were called in after eight villagers were hurt in a clash between apple growers from Naid Khai and Gund Jehangir. The former snapped the electric supply of the latter’s village.
“As the government has done nothing to help us, we decided to drain the flood waters from our soil. But the other villagers objected to it, claiming the waters will run into their village,” says Bashir Ahmed Lone, an apple cultivator from Gund Jehangir village. “We could have rebuilt our homes if they were damaged. But the flood waters have destroyed our orchards and our livelihood.”
Bandipora was among the worst affected areas in the Valley. Almost 148sq km out of the total area of 345sq km of the district was submerged, according to a study titled Satellite-based rapid assessment on floods in Jammu & Kashmir – September, conducted by the Department of Environment & Remote Sensing and Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO).
Inability of the state government to provide the needed compensation has compelled many to stay away from affected areas of once posh Shiv Pora, Indira Nagar, Batwara, Kursu Rajbagh, Gogjibagh and Jawahar Nagar, in Srinagar.
Kashmir’s renowned artist Masood Hussain, 61, has been struggling to rebuild his destroyed house with the minimum financial help that the government has provided him with. “I just received Rs 2.5 lakh (1.5 lakh from prime minister’s relief fund and rest from the state government) as compensation. That’s not even enough to clear out the debris of my completely destroyed three-storey house,” says Hussain. “I am old and can’t even apply for loans.”
The meagre compensation from the government is forcing people to sell their gold or break their saving accounts. “I sold off the gold ornaments that I had made for my daughter’s wedding to build my broken house,” says Saima Mir, a house owner in Srinagar. “I just received Rs 3,800 as compensation. Do you think this amount is sufficient to fix damaged walls, ceiling and kitchen?”
(With inputs from Peerzada Ashiq)