Instead of government, the first ones to respond during September 2014 floods were local and international NGO’s and socio-religious organizations. Saima Bhat reports their efforts
After 2014 floods, Oxford Committee for Famine Relief (Oxfam), a UK based NGO, started its work in two phases. In the first phase they provided relief before winters in South Kashmir, and the second phase, which started after winters, was the rehabilitation of people in Islamabad, Kulgam, Pulwama, and Srinagar districts.
The second phase included rehabilitation in terms of providing avenues of livelihood so that people can start their lives all over again. It catered to around 500 people with an estimated cost of Rs 20 thousand per unit. Around 100 families – mostly carpenters and masons; who had their main earning hands working as skilled labourers, were given equipment so that they can restart their livelihood. Apart from this, Oxfam provided raw material to around 200 carpet weavers to help them restart their lives.
But post-Nepal earthquake, officials accept, that the rehabilitation phase slowed down in Kashmir as teams working on the ground rushed to Kathmandu.
However, it was entirely different in case of Save the Children – a UK based NGO that promotes children’s rights and provides relief. Officials claim that Save the Children has an area specific team in the region that responds to situations like 2014 floods. “We have provided relief to about 10 thousand families in areas like Rajouri, Poonch, Srinagar, Pulwama, Budgam and Islamabad, so that people could start their lives all over again,” says Mufti Riyaz, one of the members of Save the Children.
The NGO identified around 1500 families of masons, carpenters, shopkeepers (provisional store) and other skilled labourers, and gave them tools and other related kits so that they could restart their livelihood. Another set of 500 farmers were identified and provided with cash and tools so that they can harvest after floods devastated their crops. “We also made people aware of various government sponsored schemes that are there to benefit widows etc. It directly benefitted around 500 families,” claims Riyaz. The NGO also provided hand washing stations to thirty government schools and made six government schools in Islamabad district disaster resilient models.
But Goonj – a Delhi based NGO that undertakes disaster relief, community development and humanitarian aid – took an altogether different approach while helping the flood victims. It hired local teachers to teach students free of cost in ten coaching centres (nine in Srinagar and one in Pulwama), so that they don’t lose precious academic time. The NGO also gave students (from class 5th to 10th) books and stationery.
As Goonj has no mandate to deal directly in cash, so they took up the rehabilitation part, including reconstruction of damaged houses etc., in collaboration with NGO’s like Doctors For You and Borderless World Foundation. Together they conducted a number of medical camps in Islamabad, Pulwama, Srinagar, Budgam and Bandipora districts. They also gave essential medicines to a number of Primary Health Centers, Sub-district Hospitals and even SKIMS and SMHS.
Goonj was successful in adopting incentive based relief by encouraging people to clean their localities against basic household things like utensils and bedding items. “They took those items with dignity. And they earned that,” said an official.
Another Delhi based NGO, Indo-Global Social Service Society (IGSSS) that works for development, capacity building and enlightenment of the vulnerable communities, preferred to concentrate on areas they have been working in Kashmir since 2004. “We focused on Baramulla and Bandipora districts as we knew the area well. Besides, we also did some work in Bemina and Natipora,” said Yasir Qureshi, project manager, IGSSS.
Yasir claims that IGSSS distributed relief among 14,798 families across 52 villages in Baramulla and Bandipora districts. “We also provided help in 15 urban pockets in Srinagar,” he claimed.
Apart from Indian and International NGO’s local organizations from areas that were not touched by flood waters contributed impressively. Shopian’s Bait-ul-Maal, which usually works in their district only, crossed the barriers and helped people in Srinagar. Every day truckloads of relief material in shape of food and medicines would leave Shopian town towards flood-hit areas of Srinagar. Bait-ul-Maal helped in setting up and running of many community kitchens in and around Srinagar city during initial days of flooding. “At a cost of Rs 3.50 lakh per month, we are helping thirty families manage their day-to-day needs in Wachi area,” claims Syed Altaf, general secretary Bait-ul-Maal, Shopian.
Jama’at-e-Islami (JeI), one of the largest socio-religious organizations in Kashmir, has spent Rs 3.50 crore for the construction of 100 houses in Islamabad, Pulwama, Srinagar and Kulgam districts. Each house costs Rs 3.50 lakh. So far 50 houses are handed over to the occupants.
JeI started their relief and rehabilitation work by reaching out to the distressed small scale business units owners. Under this initiative 100 business unit owners were given Rs 25,000 each so that they can restart their means of livelihoods. The organization also repaired 100 partially damaged houses in these four districts. JeI also helped those farmers who have lost their crops. “The entire process cost JeI around Rs 75 lakhs,” informs Ess Ahmad Pirzada.
JeI, which has been at the forefront of relief and rehabilitation during major calamities, also distributed a large quantity of blankets, mattress, quilts, medicines and food items.
Pirzada claims that there Srinagar based office has so far spent Rs 4.5 Crore on flood relief. “Our student’s wing Islami Jamiat-e-Talaba contributed stationery worth Rs 5 Lakh.”
After floods, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq launched Akh Akis, an initiative under which 100 most needy families would be provided new houses. Each house costing around Rs 5.20 lakh will have two rooms, a kitchen, and a bathroom. The total areas for every house would be 600 sq ft. The initiative has already received donations worth Rs 1 crore. Umar recently handed over the possession of the first house to a Habba Kadal based Kashmiri Pandit family.
While the government was largely invisible in both rescue and then rehabilitation of flood victims, the vacuum was filled, to some extent, by the separatists.
Syed Ali Geelani led Tehreek-e-Hurriyat, claims to have offered assistance to flood victims worth Rs 4.50 Crore so far. Interestingly, Tehreek-e-Hurriyat conducted their own surveys with the help of their party cadres, so that the “exact nature” of devastation could be gauged. And on the basis of that survey Tehreek-e-Hurriyat identified 1000 families and gave them Rs 10,000 each. Another 1000 families, whose damage was less, were given Rs 5000 each. “We also distributed food items, bedding, medicines etc among 7000 people,” says Ab Hamid Magray, an office bearer of the organization.
Tehreek-e-Hurriyat also organized various medical camps in collaboration with Help Poor Voluntary Trust (HPVT): a Srinagar based NGO that provides medical assistance to poor and needy. “On a monthly basis we provide medical assistance worth Rs 15 lakhs,” says Khalid Ahmad, a member of HPVT.
On the other hand Athrout – a local NGO is providing a monthly assistance of Rs 2500 to 56 flood affected families in Srinagar. Athrout’s role during and after floods was lauded by people as they were among the first ones to respond and help people trapped in hospitals. “We evacuated patients from SMHS and LD hospital and organized community kitchens for them,” says Bashir Ahmad Nadwi, Chairperson, Athrout.
After floods, around 500 volunteers associated with Athrout, helped clean and fumigate hospital, schools, private houses, public utility spaces etc. “We helped to manage dead bodies from SMHS to SKIMS hospitals during floods,” says Nadwi.
Unlike other local socio-religious organizations which concentrated on relief part largely, Darul Aloom Raheemiya joined hands with Jami’at Ulma-e-Hind, to construct 412 houses and 161 huts for the homeless people. “Besides giving one-time cash assistance of Rs 50 thousand to 46 families, we have also repaired 97 houses,” claims Molvi Hamidullah Mir, General Secretary of the seminary.
During floods, even small organizations like Alfala came forward to help people. Based in Bijbehara town in south Kashmir, Alfala is helping 40 local families manage their day-to-day expenses. “We fed thousands of tourists stranded on Srinagar-Jammu highway during floods,” Fayaz Ahmad Bhat, General Secretary, Alfala.