Innovative minds help deluged Kashmir’s hopes stay afloat

Makeshift boats save thousands of lives

As marooned friends and relatives from nearby flood-ravaged localities kept on sending SOS messages to them, Raj Mukhtar and his friends felt utterly helpless as no boats were available for them to set out on a rescue mission. The authorities were of no help in the hour of crisis, leaving them frustrated. Just then an idea struck one of the friends mind.

Drawing inspiration from a Hollywood action movie, he asked the volunteers to fetch some empty oil barrels, ropes and wood planks for designing a makeshift boat. With five barrels tied together horizontally and ply-boards fitted on top, the makeshift ‘Rambo Boat’, as they called it, was up and ready.
The makeshift boat was carried to a nearby flooded village in a truck after which rescue and relief activities were carried out by the group in Naman, Laribal, Gundibagh and Begumbagh areas of south Kashmir’s Pulwama district, evacuating several marooned people, including children and elderly people. “We had the will and eventually found out a way to help the trapped people”, the volunteers say.
Reports, dropping in from different corners of Kashmir, suggest that makeshift boats played a huge role in rescuing thousands of people stuck in flood-hit areas. Minds of marooned people and young rescuers – who have emerged as real heroes in the flood fury, it appears, were at their innovative best as they discovered ways to stay afloat in times of crisis.
As things unravel, several marooned people, across Kashmir, cut and used water-storage tanks as makeshift boats to move out of their houses that were either collapsing or gradually getting submerged in flood waters.
However, one particular innovation that was used in most areas for evacuating people or providing relief was the Potul – term used in local parlance for a makeshift platform boat made from wood logs, timber, tin sheets, plyboard and planks.
“I called all friends and relatives for help the whole night as the water level in my house was rising all the time. Suddenly I lost contact with everyone as my cell phone failed to connect. Just then I started thinking about ways to get out of the water that was threatening to enter the second storey of my house where all the family members were sitting. I feared for the life of my parents, wife and children, more than my own,” recalls Bashir Ahmad who hails from an interior Nowgam locality in south Srinagar.
“Just as I entered the attic of my house, I saw some timber and wood planks lying about. I decided to make a potul to help the family members shift to a nearby house that was relatively safer. Fortunately I could locate nails in a box lying there and made a potul as no one came to our rescue. In just half an hour the boat was ready and I shifted them all, one by one, using a rope that I tied with a tree, to a friend’s house situated on a highland,” he adds.
Even as wooden makeshift boats emerged as the most convenient and favourite choice for marooned people and rescuers, use of tyre tubes and plastic canisters was another common sight in flood-ravaged areas. So much so, some people even clung to sackfulls of plastic boxes and water bottles to keep their hopes of living alive. “We used an inflatable mattress cum sofa bought through an online shopping portal for moving around. However, it could carry not more than one or two persons at a time. Still it was very handy and helped us move around”, said Abid Hussain of Bemina. The use of mattresses was also reported from Nowgam, Rajbagh and Jawahar Nagar areas of the city.
The makeshift boats were also used extensively by volunteers for distributing eatables, drinking water and medicine among those in need.
“Crisis brings out the best out of the human mind. We should be proud of innovative brains of Kashmiris. But ideally the government should have been prepared for such an eventuality and at least kept boats available at each district and block headquarters as part of disaster management plan. We hope, if God forbid floods occur again, at least people don’t have to rely on jugaad to save their lives,” said Mubashir Ahmad, a disaster-management researcher.