A day’s rain and Kashmiris raise their hands heavenward

Srinagar, June 28 (IANS) If a single day’s rain can trigger floods in Kashmir, it carries only one message – that the state government has not learnt any lessons from last year’s unprecedented floods.

On Wednesday, it took just 24 hours of moderate to heavy rain to flood over two dozen villages in south Kashmir’s Kulgam district, destroy bridges, wash away diversions and school buildings and shut highways, including the strategic Jammu-Srinagar national highway.

The mountain road to south Kashmir’s Pahalgam health resort was snapped by flash floods.

People living in Srinagar’s once posh and affluent Rajbagh, Jawahar Nagar, Gogjibagh and Wazirbagh residential areas shifted their household goods and valuables to their attics and spent a sleepless night answering frantic calls from friends and relatives asking them to flee.

The water level in the Jhelum river, both at Sangam in south Kashmir’s Anantnag district and at Ram Munshi Bagh in Srinagar, crossed the danger mark as the authorities declared a high flood alert in the Valley by the morning of June 24.

Water started entering the basements and some shops in the Hari Singh High Street and the adjacent Goni Khon markets, after which shopkeepers started moving out their merchandise in the middle of the night.

Respite did not come because the state administration did something miraculous. The weather started improving by the afternoon of June 25 and the water level receded in all the major and minor rivers of the Valley.

The abject helplessness with which the state administration watched the rising flood levels in rivers and streams carried a huge message: nothing has changed since unprecedented floods hit Jammu and Kashmir last September.

In fact, river embankments have become weaker and the beds of rivers, lakes and streams have been silted because of which the carrying capacity of these water bodies has been seriously reduced.

“What would not happen because of four days of incessant rains in the past happens now in just a day’s rain. This means the carrying capacity of our water bodes has been alarmingly reduced because of silt and other factors over the years,” Showkat Ahmad, a hydraulic engineer here, told IANS.

Ironically, the administration is unmoved. While the engineers of the local flood control department argue they had kept sandbags and emergency relief and rescue arrangements in readiness to meet any eventuality, most people here believe, because of genuine reasons, that the government has done precious little by way of disaster management and handling of natural calamities.

“The government has done nothing beyond reading water gauges at Jhelum River and issuing flood warnings through the media. They did disastrously in September floods and if God hadn’t shown mercy, they would have done even more disastrously this time”, said an angry Nisar Hussain, 64, a retired chief engineer who was rescued, along with his family, during last year’s floods by the army from his Gogjibagh home.

A senior engineer of the flood control department told IANS: “Major flood protection work can be executed during the winter months when the water levels fall in rivers and streams. In spring and summer, no flood protection work, other than emergency management, can be undertaken.”

“Last year, massive damage was caused to embankments by rivers and streams overflowing and also by changing their courses at places. Massive funding is needed to construct alternative flood spill channels, rectify the course changes by water bodies and to restore and strengthen embankments,” the engineer added.

For Kashmiris, explanations like the non-availability of funds and the need to wait for the next winter so that the water levels come down carry a clear message – instead of looking to the government during floods, raise your hands heavenward for divine intervention.

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