Flood fury in Kashmir

As Jammu and Kashmir reels under possibly the worst floods in nearly six decades, and as the toll in terms of lives, property and crops mounts, the question that looms large is whether timely warnings had been issued and measures initiated to let people take evasive action on time. Even admitting that this was a “flash flood” caused by a retreating monsoon, the issue of whether systems to see such disasters coming, with the aid of technology, including real-time upstream monitoring mechanisms and space-based mapping processes, have been laid in place, comes to the fore. These posers are particularly relevant as the region has been buffeted in successive years by serious floods in rivers that have their headwaters in the Himalayan mountain ranges. That there was no warning issued before the water level rose almost overnight along the Jhelum — that flows across the Kashmir basin — has been more or less confirmed from media reportage. The extent of the deluge could be gauged from the fact that some 2,500 villages have been partially or completely submerged. Thousands of people were stranded on rooftops and waiting to be rescued as day broke on Sunday in Srinagar — where even the Army cantonment, the Civil Secretariat, the police headquarters and the High Court were seriously inundated. The Jammu region accounts for most of the deaths so far. Equally bad was the situation in the Pakistan-occupied part of Kashmir across the Line of Control, as also in the Punjab province and Gilgit-Baltistan. Prime Minister Narendra Modi made an aerial survey of the scene on the Indian side and termed it a “national-level disaster”; across the border, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif did an aerial assessment. Both were quick to offer mutual help to mitigate the suffering.

The calamity has come during the build-up to elections in the State due by the end of the year. But it is to be hoped that political differences are put aside, and the temptation to indulge in blame-games and score brownie points is avoided, as full-scale efforts to reach rescue and rehabilitation to all the affected persons and regions are mounted by putting every shoulder to the wheel. For the State government led by Chief Minister Omar Abdullah, this could be an opportunity to prove its mettle. The tasks are stupendous. Those who have lost their dwellings need to be helped to rebuild them or find alternative accommodation. Livelihood issues need to be addressed. Infrastructure including power and communication links need to be restored quickly. The National Disaster Response Force is active on the scene, and the Army, the Navy and the Indian Air Force are at work. Even as all this is done, long-term plans to forewarn and protect the region that has been ravaged repeatedly by the vagaries of Himalayan floods need to be given top priority.

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Printable version | Jun 17, 2021 9:12:47 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/editorial-flood-fury-in-kashmir/article6391837.ece

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