As Kashmir was inches away from a flood in early July, the National Institute of Disaster Management came with its report about the debilitating flood that devastated Kashmir in September 2014, flagging the mess that still remains unaddressed, reports Babra Wani
Last week, Srinagar was miraculously saved from a flood. The discharge started getting down as the gauge approached the danger mark. Every time there is a flood situation, people mentally land in September 2014, when a devastating deluge brought widespread destruction to the region.
Interestingly, Kashmir’s flood-like situation coincided with the release of a detailed report by the National Institute of Disaster Management (NIDM) on the 2014 flood. It underscores the necessity for urgent corrective measures to prevent future disasters resembling the catastrophic 2014 floods.
Highlights the detrimental impact of unplanned development across Kashmir, the report warns of dire consequences if immediate action is not taken. It raises alarming concerns regarding haphazard developmental activities, such as unregulated mining operations, construction projects, and poorly-planned urbanization, that have taken place without adequate consideration for environmental safety and sustainability. These activities have disrupted natural drainage patterns and weakened flood control infrastructure.
The NIDM warns that the current construction boom, driven by uncontrolled extraction of sand, gravel, and boulders from riverbeds, heightens the vulnerability of rivers to flash floods. To mitigate future flood risks, the report calls for long-term measures, including the construction of alternative flood channels, the enhancement of urban drainage systems, the restoration of natural drainage and wetlands, and improved city planning that incorporates flood and earthquake vulnerability considerations.
The 2014 flood was the first major deluge of the twenty-first-century Kashmir. Apart from killing around 300 individuals across Jammu and Kashmir, it left a trail of devastation that affected over two million families. Its repercussions continue to resonate to this day. The NIDM report Kashmir Floods 2014 – Recovery to Resilience is a comprehensive document offering invaluable insights into the post-flood era and sheds light on the arduous journey towards restoration and fortitude.
Dr Amir Ali Khan, an Associate Professor, and the author of the report has meticulously examined the recovery process in the aftermath of the flood.
A History of Floods
Kashmir has a long-standing history of floods. Besides, the region has historically been plagued by disasters like earthquakes, famines, and more.
“The Kashmir valley has been plagued by floods primarily due to embankment overflow, channel breaches, horizontal erosion, and flash floods in the Jhelum River and its tributaries,” the report has recorded, emphasising that “the encroachment of river water channels and siltation in water bodies due to erosion have further exacerbated the valley’s vulnerability to flood hazards.” In the Jammu region, flood hazards primarily arise from the spilling of banks and embankment erosion caused by the Chenab and Ravi rivers.
The report highlights the demographic factors that make Jammu and Kashmir prone to floods. “Floods in the Kashmir valley are intrinsically linked to the Jhelum River, and the frequency of these devastating events has been alarmingly high since the formation of the valley. The creation of Wular Lake and Dal Lake is primarily attributed to these disastrous flood events.”
Among the most catastrophic floods witnessed in the 20th and 21st centuries in the region, the flash floods in Ladakh in 2010 and the 2014 floods stand out. The flash floods in Ladakh were triggered by a half-hour rainfall, resulting in the tragic loss of 248 lives, with 76 people reported missing. The calamity also caused extensive damage to around 1200 houses and nearly 1400 hectares of agricultural land.
The history of floods in Jammu and Kashmir dates back to 2082-2041 BC, with the most recent one engulfing the region in 2014. Throughout history, various rulers and authorities have endeavoured to combat this recurring problem by constructing canals and flood channels. In recent years, numerous agencies, departments, and organisations have been established to issue early warnings not only for floods but also for other potential disasters in Jammu and Kashmir. These measures are a testament to the region’s determination to mitigate future calamities and protect its inhabitants.
By exploring the historical context, examining the causes, and documenting the recovery efforts, the report sheds light on the magnitude of the 2014 flood and provides valuable insights for building resilience in the face of future challenges. It serves as a crucial resource for both policymakers and communities, urging them to prioritize disaster preparedness and proactive measures to minimize the impact of natural disasters in this breathtaking yet vulnerable region.
The Deluge of 2014
The September 2014 flood was unleashed by continuous rainfall for four days starting September 2. Srinagar was inundated on September 7. While 287 lives were lost 53,082 survived injured. The impact on the economy, ecology, and infrastructure of Jammu and Kashmir was colossal. Around 1.4 million people lost their homes and livelihoods, resulting in immeasurable human suffering. The report reveals that over 550,000 people were affected and displaced, and approximately 651,000 hectares of farmland were ravaged.
The flood wreaked havoc on ten districts, including Anantnag, Kulgam, Pulwama, Srinagar, and Budgam in the Kashmir division, and Jammu, Rajouri, Poonch, Udhampur, Reasi in the Jammu division. These districts witnessed the most severe consequences of the deluge, with 1,673 villages affected and more than 67,000 houses fully damaged, while an additional 66,000 houses suffered partial damage. The floodwaters submerged an extensive area of approximately 557 square kilometres. The agricultural sector bore the brunt of the disaster, with vegetable and maize crops being among the hardest hit. The report highlights the food stock impact, as the waterlogging damaged dry rations and washed away countless household assets, leading to a decrease in food consumption in Jammu and Kashmir.
The flood also inflicted a significant blow to education and disrupted communication and connectivity throughout the region. The report mentions that out of 11,526 primary and middle school buildings, 1,986 had collapsed, and 2,685 were partially damaged, leaving a staggering 2,397 students without schools.
Remarkably, the region experienced an unprecedented amount of rainfall during this disaster. Despite September typically being the least rainy month in Kashmir, Srinagar received approximately 173 mm of rainfall in the first week alone, surpassing the previous 25-year record of 151.9 mm. Some parts of the region witnessed rainfall exceeding 650 mm in just three days, with South Kashmir experiencing nearly double that of Central and North Kashmir.
The report identifies various factors contributing to the flood, including the increase in global temperatures, climate change, population growth, loss of wetlands, deforestation, and unregulated land use. Rapid urbanisation, encroachment on water bodies and river banks, and the disappearance of wetlands have disrupted natural drainage patterns, exacerbating the situation. The report emphasizes that the highly urbanised and mismanaged floodplains played a significant role in amplifying the disastrous dimensions of the prolonged and torrential rainfall.
Citing the findings of the Joint Rapid Needs Assessment (JRNA) conducted in September 9-12, 2014, the report reveals that 86 per cent of wards were affected, with major damage occurring to shelters, water and sanitation facilities, agricultural land, and education. The JRNA report also indicates that a staggering 101 million people were affected, including both direct and indirect losses.
In response to the catastrophe, extensive relief operations were launched to assist the affected population. Blankets, tents, food packets, water, and baby food were distributed on a massive scale. As of September 12, the reports mentions the Army had distributed approximately 8,200 blankets, 704 tents, and 320 Red Cross tents. Moreover, 533 tons of ready-made food, 298 tons of water, 31,500 food packets, 2.6 tons of biscuits, 1,400 pouches of long-lasting milk, 5 metric tons of skimmed milk powder, and 7 tons of baby food were delivered.
To address the healthcare needs of the affected population, around 80 medical teams were deployed by the Indian Army. Four Army Field Hospitals were established in areas like Awantipora, Pattan, Anantnag, and Old Airport Road to provide medical assistance. These hospitals treated approximately 75,254 patients. Psychological teams were also deployed to conduct Psychological Needs Assessments. Essential medical supplies such as chlorine tablets, ORS, doxycycline tablets, paracetamol syrup, and ranitidine injections were distributed in large quantities. The Indian Red Cross Society provided two water purification units, each capable of purifying 40,000 litres of water per day. Additionally, 100,000 doses of the measles vaccine for Srinagar and 50,000 doses for Jammu were transported on September 16, and 25 metric tons of Bleaching Powder were mobilized to Jammu.
Amidst the devastation, the flood of 2014 united communities and ignited a wave of support and assistance. Through collective efforts and resilience, the people of Jammu and Kashmir embarked on the arduous journey of recovery, aided by the relief operations and measures undertaken by various organisations. The lessons learned from this calamity serve as a crucial reminder of the importance of preparedness, proactive measures, and sustainable development to safeguard the region’s future and mitigate the impact of future disasters.
The Road to Recovery
Following the devastating flood, the government initiated relief efforts and measures to restore what had been lost. However, the report highlights significant shortcomings in the assessment of damages, as only three out of six districts completed accurate assessments. This led to delays in arranging materials and procuring supplies, which adversely affected the timely assistance provided to those in need.
Alarmingly, none of the affected districts had formulated evacuation plans, a violation of the Disaster Management Act of 2005, which mandates the formulation of evacuation plans and the identification of relief centres and camps at the district level. Consequently, rescue, evacuation, and relief efforts were managed in an ad hoc manner and lacked sufficient controls, as stated in the report.
The post-flood era saw the establishment of temporary shelters and makeshift tents. Jammu and Kashmir Industries Limited (JKI) played a crucial role in procuring 20,345 tents at Rs 13.26 crore, providing temporary shelters to families whose houses were fully damaged. Additionally, 50,000 blankets were procured at a rate of Rs 290 per blanket from two firms. Of these, 36,000 blankets were issued to the Additional DC Srinagar in September 2014, while 14,000 blankets were distributed to Rajouri, Poonch, Udhampur, Reasi, and Jammu districts in October 2014. An additional 19,105 blankets, valued at Rs. 0.50 crore, were procured by the erstwhile State Government.
Gratuitous assistance was also provided to families that had suffered losses. The State Disaster Response Fund (SDRF) stipulated payment of Rs 1,300 per family for the loss of clothing and Rs 1,400 for the loss of utensils/household goods to families whose houses were either washed away, inundated for more than a week, or fully damaged. However, the report reveals significant delays in providing this relief, with only 1.95 per cent of the registered cases receiving assistance within the required 15-day period. Approximately 75 per cent of cases waited three to six months for their relief funds.
The then-state government sanctioned six months of free ration, amounting to 35 kilograms per family, for the flood-affected areas. The Revenue Department approved 426,640 flood-affected families in the six test-checked districts, while the District Administration subsequently communicated 721,275 families to the Consumer Affairs and Public Distribution (CAPD) Department for free ration. Regrettably, only 40.13 per cent of the total 11.83 lakh quintals of ration were provided within three months, according to the report.
The government allocated approximately Rs 2.14 crore to the Srinagar Municipal Corporation (SMC) for cleanliness and hygiene in the city. The Corporation spent Rs 1.37 crore on the collection and disposal of 73,435 Metric Tons (MT) of garbage at the landfill site between September 17 and November 15, 2014.
Despite the passage of 18 months since the flood, the loss of livestock and agricultural land remained unassessed. The report highlights that funds amounting to Rs 0.84 crore were disbursed for the loss of 730 animals in the Jammu district without proper verification by the Competent Authority.
In addition, restoration works involving an expenditure of Rs 15.96 crore commenced two to four months after the flood. Divisional authorities prepared reports on the damaged infrastructure in sectors such as Public Health Engineering (PHE), Public Works (Roads and Bridges), Power Development (Electric Maintenance and Rural Electrification), and Irrigation and Flood Control departments.
Furthermore, authorities implemented several resilience-building measures in the post-flood era, focusing on preparedness, organisation, and community capacity. Post-disaster activities, projects, and actions aimed to promote recovery and build resilience. The Divisional Commissioner Kashmir’s office played a pivotal role in initiating various initiatives, including the establishment of departments and projects.
While the road to recovery was riddled with challenges and shortcomings, the efforts undertaken in the post-flood era paved the way for rebuilding and fostering resilience within the affected communities. The report serves as a testament to the lessons learned and emphasises the importance of effective planning, coordination, and support in overcoming the aftermath of such a devastating disaster.
Building a Resilient Future
The report highlights several immediate and long-term measures taken by various departments to enhance flood disaster preparedness in the aftermath of the 2014 floods. Under immediate measures, the department successfully plugged breaches and restored a total of 3,316 spots temporarily, along with 1,235 spots permanently, at Rs 163.11 crores and Rs 96.78 crores, respectively.
The Central Water Commission (CWC) played a pivotal role in developing a priority-based flood management project called Priority Works Comprehensive Plan for Flood Management Works on Jhelum-Phase I. This project aimed to promptly address significant obstructions in the Jhelum River and Flood Spill Channel, providing relief from moderate to low-intensity floods. To accomplish this, the department acquired land, constructed the flood spill channel, divided it into sections, built bridges, installed flood protection systems, implemented anti-erosion measures, and executed other necessary steps.
In addition, various initiatives were undertaken, such as the removal of trees, plantation drives, increasing the flood spill channel capacity, and enhancing the carrying capacity of the River Jhelum. Special attention was given to the safety and security of the river bunds.
The report outlines several non-structural, long-term measures, including:
- Automation of Flood Monitoring System: Establishment of Automatic Water Level Recorders (AWLRs) and Automatic Rain Gauges (ARGs).
- Undertaking additional works by the Irrigation and Flood Control Department (I&FC) to better prepare the region for future flood disasters.
- Deployment of water rescue equipment by the State Disaster Response Force (SDRF) stationed in Kashmir.
- Implementation of the Jhelum and Tawi Flood Recovery Project.
- Planning for Multi-Hazard Risk Assessment (MHRA) to enhance technical advancements.
- Development of a Hydro-Meteorological Action Plan (HMAP).
- Conducting consultancy studies by JTFRP under MHRA.
- Establishing a Decision Support System (DSS) for J&K State Disaster Management Authority.
Furthermore, several sub-projects were implemented as part of the “Build Back Better” strategy by the Joint Task Force for Reconstruction and Preservation (JTFRP)in2015. These projects encompassed the development and widening of access roads, improvement of hospital and school facilities, establishment of new institutions, industrial expansions, and flood mitigation measures. Approximately 170 projects have been or are being implemented with the assistance of different agencies and consultants.
Workshops, webinars, and training programs have been conducted in 2020 and 2021 to enhance disaster management knowledge and skills. Additionally, medical equipment was procured under JTFRP in January 2021, revolutionizing the critical healthcare system in Jammu and Kashmir.
Recognising the impact of the floods on the education sector, the Directorate of Education implemented various initiatives to restore infrastructure and mitigate further losses. School safety clubs were established, and heads of institutions, teachers, and authorities received training. Schools were directed to conduct training programs, and mock drills, and integrate disaster management into the curriculum.
Furthermore, several other departments introduced measures to combat future disasters, such as helpline numbers, emergency codes, and disaster management manuals. The report emphasizes the need for concrete measures to strengthen flood disaster preparedness at all levels, acknowledging that the infrastructure in Jammu and Kashmir was overwhelmed by the 2014 floods.
Through these comprehensive efforts and initiatives, the region aims to build resilience and develop a robust framework to effectively respond to and mitigate the impact of future flood disasters.
The Other Side
The report, however, has failed to offer the details of what the civil society did in rescue, relief and rehabilitation. Even the then top officers were rescued by the city youth who volunteered in a challenging and life-threatening situation. For many days, the government did not actually exist. Detailing the civil society part of the 2014 floods management requires a huge effort and a lot of research work.