Can Kashmiris rescued from inundated areas celebrate Eid?

Even three weeks after unprecedented floods ravaged the Kashmir Valley, thousands here are not sure if they will be in a position to celebrate Eid-ul-Azha a week from now.

Thousands remain homeless in Srinagar after losing virtually all their possessions after waters from the Jhelum flooded their houses. Traders who too lost everything are not sure when they can bounce back.

Eid-ul-Azha, the holiest Muslim festival, falls Oct 6.

Residential and commercial areas of Rajbagh, Jawahar Nagar, Wazirbagh, Kursoo, Gogjibagh, Bemina, Qamarwari, Padshahi Bagh and Mehjoor Nagar are still under flood waters.

“We went home to retrieve some documents. We hired a boat to reach our home… Everything we had… television, fridge, washing machine, bedding, furniture and wardrobes … have been destroyed,” moaned Nisar Hussain.

“The problem is unless we are able to move in to clean the house and take out flood soaked items, we cannot live there till the next year as winter is approaching fast,” added the Gogjibagh area resident.

The heart of Srinagar’s commerce and trade, Residency Road, Lal Chowk, Maisuma and Hari Singh High Street, have been cleared of stagnant flood water.

But trading and other commercial activity is unlikely to start soon because shopkeepers are still removing their flood damaged merchandise and cleaning their establishments.

“Business is unlikely to be resumed till the Eid festival and even later,” said Showkat Ahmad, a shopkeeper in the Hari Singh High Street market where mud and slush are still over a foot deep in the shops.

The problem with the dewatering process in Srinagar is that almost all the work is being done through water pumps of the fire services department and by affording cuts in the embankments of the Jhelum.

Water in both the Jhelum river and the flood spill channel which overflowed their embankments during the floods is now much lower than that in the inundated areas.

“We have made a number of cuts in the embankments of the Jhelum to drain out water from residential areas,” said a senior engineer of the Jammu and Kashmir flood control department.

What baffles logic is that most mechanical dewatering in Srinagar city is being done by fire service engines.

Almost all the dewatering pump stations in the inundated areas were submerged by floods and became non-functional.

“The fire service engines have very little capacity since these are designed to take water from small water points and sources,” a frustrated official told IANS.

“Nowhere in the world are these used for dewatering, and that too for a crisis of this magnitude,” added another engineer who also did not want to be named.

The state-run ONGC had sent special high capacity dewatering pumps to Srinagar but reportedly these have now been flown back as no operator from the state mechanical department knew how to work these pumps.

“This is a crime which must be probed and responsibility fixed. What can be more callous than the ONGC pumps being returned because we did not have operators?” said a fuming Nisar Hussain as he held a packet of water soaked certificates and bank fixed deposit receipts he managed to retrieve from his Gogjibagh home.

The unprecedented floods which ravaged Jammu and Kashmir killed 315 people, 81 of them in the Kashmir Valley and 234 in the Jammu region.

While the loss of life was more in the Jammu region due to flash floods and landslides, the damage to public and private property and agriculture has been huge in the valley.

A total of 45 people died in Srinagar city. The army rescued over 286,000 marooned people in the state.

But tens of thousands are still staring at uncertainty.

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