A winter of discontent and devastation: Kashmiris unprepared for cold days ahead

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Kashmiris unprepared for cold days ahead
Mushtaq Ahmed, a 34-year-old father from Arigatnoo village in the Kashmir Valley's Kulgam region, points towards a heap of rubble and heaves a deep sigh. Until last month, this was his home.

The deluge that followed the incessant rains in the Valley has washed away everything - homes, crops, fruit trees, schools - leaving a trail of devastation and taking over 200 lives, as per official estimates.

"I have no idea where to start from. All that remains is this rubble and I have no money to rebuild my home", Mushtaq told IANS.

As winter slowly sets in, people of the Kashmir Valley are an anxious lot.

Relief efforts by government agencies, private and non profit bodies continue; however, given the conditions prevalent, this is proving to be more and more difficult.

Most of the stocked foodgrain was washed away in the floods

Tanveer who is part of the emergency response team at the Srinagar office of ActionAid India, a humanitarian organisation providing relief to the affected people in the Valley, believes that the next couple of weeks will prove crucial for relief efforts as the temperature continues to dip.

"The temperature is already down to 7-8 degrees in the night. What we especially worry about are areas like downtown Srinagar, Mehjoor Nagar, Chatabal and Bemina which have a high population of poorer families, migrant labourers from other states and those working as drivers, shikara operators and the like, dependent on the tourism industry," Tanveer told IANS.

These are the worst hit communities since they don't have the capacity to bounce back and have lost their homes (rented or otherwise). For those who don't have relatives or friends to stay with, there is the option of relief camps which have been set up. But most of them just want to go back to their homes.

During the day time, most go to check the condition of their homes and see whether they can start clearing the debris left by the flooding and resume living there, but are forced to return to a camp at night.

"What we are witnessing is a courageous populace reconciled to the fact that their lives were saved, that they had to move on and set up their homes in the face of a harsh winter which is just round the corner," Tanveer noted.

In addition to their homes, most of the stocked foodgrain was washed away in the floods. Thus, the emphasis for all relief efforts is on shelter, livelihood rehabilitation and food security, amongst other issues. However, a big problem that relief organisations are facing is getting this relief material to the affected areas. Large quantities of relief material remain at the Delhi and Srinagar airports as transporting the material from Srinagar airport to various locations is proving difficult. Up to 5-7 feet of water is still present in many areas. This is posing a major hurdle to the movement of vehicles.

Winter usually sets in by November. This leaves a little over a month for homes to be restored in the Valley. For aid organisations, the main concern is that relief and rehabilitation work will become even more difficult in the extreme cold conditions that are expected then.

IANS

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