Aug 112012
 

We may be feeling peeved by the weather in the UK this summer. But the moonson flooding in North India last week puts our woes into perspective.

Late last Friday night, flash floods struck the town of Uttarakshi and its neighbouring villages, killing at least 31 people. Forty are reported missing and an estimated 2-3,000 people have been affected overall.  The floods destroyed homes and swept away bridges and a large amount of the Gangotri National Highway.  An estimated 250 buildings collapsed.

This is the worst natural disaster to hit Uttarkashi in over 30 years.

 

prone to natural disaster

Uttarkashi is a town in the northern part of Uttarakhand state. It is located on the banks of the Bhagirathi river which, further downstream, converges with the Mandakini and Alaknanda to form the beginning of the Ganges.

Located in the foothills of the Himalayas, one of the youngest and most fragile ranges in the world, the area is particularly susceptible to natural disaster: flooding, landslides and earthquakes. The most recent quake, the Uttarkashi tragedy in 1991, reached 6.6 on the Richter scale and killed over 2,000 people. Most of those who died were crushed under the collapsed slate roofs of their homes.

Although an estimated 2-3,000 people have been affected by the recent floods, actual figures cannot yet be confirmed. Many of the villages surrounding the main town of Uttarkashi have been swept away and so it’s difficult to account for the loss of life or the total number of people affected.

At least 1,000 pilgrims on the Yamunotri and Gangotri sections of the Char Dham pilgrimage route are trapped and require rescue. Although the army and BRO personnel (Border Roads Organisation) have been sent in to provide support, gauging the level of relief aid delivered so far across the region is problematic.

relief

Vijay Bahuguna, Chief Minister of Uttarakhand, said that the State Government “would provide all possible assistance.” He has sanctioned  20 crore (about £2.3 million / $3.6 million) to provide local people with relief and compensation. Central Government has committed a further 150 crore (about £17.3 million / $27 million) for relief work.

According to one source, however, support has not materialised in at least one significant location where over 500 people lack basic necessities. (see CNN-IBN report). There are likely to be many more in a similar situation as the government money may take a while to reach those who need it most urgently.

Local NGOs, therefore, are doing their best to move in and provide aid where possible.  But they are being thwarted by landslides, roadblocks, further threats of bad weather and, most importantly, the lack of immediate funds.

I have been in touch JP Singh, a good friend and Director of KHW, an NGO based in Dehradun committed to providing disaster relief in such circumstances. I have known JP and the team at KHW for many years.

JP tells me that the most pressing needs are:

  1. Water proof tents (double layered – water proof and heat insulation)
  2. Clothes
  3. Bedding
  4. Water purifiers
  5. Milk and supplements for children and elderly
  6. Community Kitchens in the relief camps (for the next 10 to 15 days). Followed by dry rations for up to three months for each affected family
  7. Cooking utensils and stoves
  8. Medicines
  9. Logistic support

urgent action needed

It’s easy for many of us in the West to feel detached from such situations, unsure of what to do (especially when presented with a list like the one above).

It’s (marginally) easier for me because I’ve been to the region on several occasions and know how tough life is under ordinary circumstances, let alone when a tragedy like this strikes.  So I can write about what I know.

It would be great if you could retweet / share this blog. It costs nothing and it might reach people who are able to offer the immediate support that’s required, materially or financially.

I’m sure there are a number of NGOs that would love to receive financial donations to help them carry out the necessary relief work .  For example, KHW, the NGO mentioned above, is able to receive funds from outside the UK through www.stewardship.org.uk. The name of the account is ‘Kinderhilfswerk Society’  and the account number is 20113442.  KHW’s website is www.kinderhilfswerk.in

I will update this blog with further news as I receive it.

Thanks for reading.

Video clip from NDTV - ’31 dead, 40 missing in Uttarkashi flash floods’

UPDATE

14-08-12:  News from on the ground - Action Aid - fears that over 500 people are still missing

10-09-12: For latest updates from Uttarkhand, visit the Facebook page of the Disaster Mitigation and Management Centre (DMMC)