SRINAGAR, India (AP) – Health workers were scrambling Tuesday to manage a mounting health crisis nearly two weeks after massive flooding engulfed much of Kashmir, where they are treating cases of diarrhoea, skin allergies and fungus as they hope the stagnant waters do not create conditions for more serious disease outbreaks.
Countless bloated livestock carcasses were floating across the waterlogged Himalayan region. Warned by experts to avoid the floodwaters, many residents are rationing water bottles brought by aid workers every few days.
“The chance of cholera, jaundice and leptospirosis spreading are high,” said Dr Swati Jha with the aid group Americares. “The most essential need right now is that of clean water.”
The scale of the disaster – described as an “unprecedented catastrophe” by the region’s top elected official – has stunned many in India, with newspapers running daily front-page aerial photos showing isolated rooftops framed by mud-brown waters.
The Himalayan region of Kashmir is divided between India and Pakistan, while being claimed by both. And both sides have seen extreme devastation, with tens of thousands of families losing all their possessions.
A car is partially submerged in an inundated neighbourhood of Srinagar, Indian-controlled Kashmir, Monday, September 15. Flooding from days of heavy monsoon rains partially submerged Srinagar and left more than 400 people dead in northern Pakistan and India. The flood waters have begun to recede, but vast fields of crops have been destroyed and tens of thousands of families have lost all their possessions – AP
In Indian Kashmir, more than 200 people were killed and another 287,000 were evacuated after homes, shops and other buildings filled to their rooftops almost two weeks ago.
On the Pakistani side, at least 328 people have died and 276,681 have been evacuated, with the floods affecting more than 3,000 villages extending beyond Pakistani Kashmir into the country’s Punjab region.
Pakistani doctors have treated 123,020 patients in flood-hit areas, according to the National Disaster Management authority.
Indian rescue workers were rushing in health workers, sewage pumps, water filters, water purifying tablets and 30 generators to electrify relief camps and field hospitals.
Six medical camps and 80 medical teams have already treated around 53,000 patients, according to the army, which has 30,000 troops on the ground for rescue and relief efforts.
But doctors said the need was vast – and urgent – though they said the cooler mountain temperatures were helping to slow any disease spread.
“There are pretty high chances of water-borne disease and disease due to overcrowding,” said critical care specialist Dr Javaid Naqishbandi in Srinagar, urging the government to send vaccines and avoid crowding people into shelters.
At least 80 per cent of the main city of Srinagar remained under more than three-to-four-metres of water on Tuesday, with most residents now staying in shelters or with relatives on higher ground.
As waters began to recede from a few areas, emergency workers have started pumping out standing water. But they said it would take several months to remove all the water and clear the debris.
Meanwhile, workers clearing landslides reopened one of the few highways into the Kashmir Valley on Tuesday.
Rescue workers were wearing masks to avoid disease contamination. Local aid worker Fayaz Hamed said that, upon arriving in one submerged neighbourhood of Srinagar on Monday night, the air was filled with the smell of rotting flesh.
“It was an overpowering stench, and we saw local residents pulling two bodies (of people) out of the water,” Hamed said.
India’s health minister, Harsh Vardhan, said a “large number” of doctors from Delhi government hospitals had gone to the region.
“I can’t muster enough words in their praise,” he said in a statement after visiting the region Sunday, and pledged to send even more medicine, health workers and tools for filtering and cleaning water. He also urged local authorities to clear animal carcasses and monitor water supplies.
In another area of Srinagar where the Indian army runs a dairy farm with more than 300 cows, only seven survived while the rest were enormously bloated and floating in the floodwaters.