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Flooded and forgotten

By Nazam Mir
November 08, 2014 14:29 IST
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Months after the devastating flood ruined their life, the people of Poonch are today totally isolated. They feel they have been left unheard, once again. Nazam Mir reports

Twenty eight-year old Imran Khan has been in shock since the news of death of his parents and wife trickled in during the floods that wreaked havoc in the state of Jammu and Kashmir in September this year. "We were on the second floor of our house, watching the rain lashing down on our village. None of us had a clue to the disaster that awaited us. Within seconds, the entire house was washed away in the landslide.

When I regained consciousness, I was informed that my parents and wife had died on the spot while eight other family members were seriously injured. All our livestock was also killed in the incident," shared a shattered Imran, recalling the devastating incident.

Imran, a resident of village Berari, tucked away in hilly terrain of tehsil Mandi in Poonch District near the Line of Control is not a case in isolation. Almost every family in the rural belt of Poonch shares the same grief as Imran's. This border district located in the lap of the mighty Pir Panjal Range was already labeled one of the most backward districts of the state.

Based on the assessment of flood damages done by the Government, Poonch now has the dubious distinction of being the worst-affected district in the Jammu region, with massive devastation of public and private property, besides loss of several lives.

The intensity of the floods can be estimated from the fact that the Sher-e-Kashmir Bridge, the lifeline of Poonch, was washed away along with the abutment on both sides.

Houses built on the river bed were wiped out.

As an immediate step, people were shifted to relief camps that provided them temporary relief but during the day, no one could be seen at these camps. Every able bodied adult would go back to his or her house during the day, scrounging in the slush for salvaging belongings , or simply to join the back-breaking task of clearing the rubble from around the settlements.

Left behind in the camps were the children and the infirm.

A month later, the scars remain as fresh, people in the rural areas are still awaiting help from the government to help them overcome this tragedy. According to locals, the administration's presence ends in the town area. There is no telling what is happening in the rural hinterland because it remains inaccessible till date. The media has not reached this distant neglected area.

Twelve-year old Nagina Koser of Imran's village was injured in the floods with tin sheets injuring her right leg up to the knee. "I have collected money from relatives and other people for my daughter's treatment. She has been admitted to Government Medical College, Jammu as I have not received any help from the administration," rues Nagina's father, Javed Iqbal, who works as a labourer in Poonch.

It is not only the loss of human life and property that has disturbed the fragile environment of Poonch but the loss of livestock and farm fields that has jeopardized the economy of the villagers.

"A man in my village lost his entire herd of 18 buffaloes," narrates Ajaz ul Haq, a resident of Surankote. With each buffalo priced at over Rupees 50,000, the economic devastation has dealt a blow the household may never recover from.

With buffaloes, goats and sheep dead in large numbers, the nauseating stench is a constant reminder of the loss and, worse, of the danger of epidemic.

"Our priority will be to slowly get our lives back on track, starting with the repairing of the damaged structures and reworking the fields. We cannot afford to even think of buying more livestock. Although we are receiving relief in terms of ration and compensation for damaged structures, no compensation for the loss of livestock and crops has come from either the State or the Central Government," rued Niaz Ahmed, a local from Surankote village.

In Poonch alone, 28369 kanals of land has been affected by flash floods with no estimated figure of loss of livestock available as yet. So far, no compensation has been announced for the damaged crops and livestock - the very basis of survival of the rural people. And as for the compensation announced for the dead and the injured, sceptics abound.

When the Chief Minister Omar Abdullah had visited the District, he declared that the Government would relax norms to compensate those who have suffered extensive loss of life, livestock and property during the floods, but nothing has been announced or received as far as compensation for livestock is concerned.

The prime minister visited the state on Diwali this year and announced an additional relief package of Rs 745 crore for rebuilding of damaged homes and hospitals in the flood affected state. He added that he had immediately announced a relief package of Rs 1,000 crore after the floods last month. It has been close to two months already, but when this money reaches deserving hands remains an unanswered question.

In recent years, Poonch has been in the news for the ceasefire violations disturbing the fragile peace process. Barely remembered in the reportage are the people whose everyday lives are interrupted, who, since the mayhem of the 1940s, are keen to leave behind the violent history of cross-border conflict that has plagued the region for over six decades.

Today, the picturesque mountains of the Pir Panjal Range stand mute witness to another destruction of colossal magnitude -- except this time it was triggered by forces beyond the people's control. The people of Poonch have been totally isolated. They feel they have been left unheard, once again.

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Nazam Mir
Source: ANI
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