MSF India has been present in Kashmir for over a decade now. Our critical needs assessment post the floods in Jammu and Kashmir revealed a robust community relief effort. Three experts provide their views on the scale and magnitude of the floods, and MSF’s role in the area in the weeks to come.
When the news of Jammu and Kashmir floods broke, MSF’s team in Delhi tried to get in touch with the team on ground but communication remained a challenge. MSF has been providing mental health care through counseling services in Kashmir to those affected by the ongoing low intensity conflict since 2001. While efforts continued to gain a better insight into the ground situation, Nontas Papadimitriou, an experienced logistician with MSF left for Kashmir with over 500 non-food item kits including blankets, kitchen kits and hygiene kits on September 7, 2014.
“Initially when I set off to Kashmir, I thought I would be able to wade through the water to reach the MSF office in Nishat, Srinagar but I was surprised and shocked to see the magnitude of floods. With a stretch of about 20kms under 6-7 meters of water, it seemed impossible to reach the MSF office,” he said. Stuck at the airport for five days with relief material, he along with his team in Delhi spent a few anxious hours planning what to do next. While Nontas started to assess the critical needs on the airport side and started to distribute the non-food items wherever required, the MSF team in Nishat (he later learnt) had also begun the same at their end.
The quick and timely community support enabled supplies donated by the local communities to reach those affected soon after the floods ravaged the city of Srinagar and surrounding villages. He said. “I was quite amazed at the camaraderie shown by the local population and the way they banded together to help one another. Since these were not flash floods, most people had time to reach higher grounds. Many were rescued and housed at community centres, mosques and schools thereby helping relief material reach them.” he said.
MSF visited most camps and decided to support the ones that had not yet received aid from other sources. “The efforts of our local team in Kashmir, who themselves were affected, to re-group and organise relief operations for those affected is worth a mention! The team started moving from lesser affected areas to gather and distribute bottled water, biscuits, juices, other packed food, blankets and mattresses from the very first day. They made themselves available for an assessment of the most affected areas so the relief items could reach there.”
“We coordinated with the committees of these relief camps and donated whatever they needed and possible. Most of the camps had by then already received quite a lot of relief material from the communities. We were hence providing material as and where required. For instance, we saw quite a few people sleeping inside cars and trucks on top of a bridge and here we provided them with blankets and hygiene kits. Elsewhere, there was a requirement for sanitary pads and so we distributed these,”he added.
When asked about the fear of spread of water borne diseases, Dr Swapan Kachop, Deputy Country Director said that most people in Srinagar were already taking precautions by boiling water and using chlorine tablets where available. “We went to quite a few relief camps to check if there have been any cases of diarrhoea and so far there have been no reports on the same. We will continue to monitor of the situation for any future medical needs.” he said.
The MSF team however believes that in weeks to come, there might be a need for psycho-social support to those affected by the massive floods. “As of now the people are looking to return to their homes, clean it up and resume their lives. They are looking for compensation for the houses, lands they have lost. However, there is definitely a lot of trauma among those affected by the floods and this is something we will continue to monitor in weeks and months to come. Our counseling services are soon resuming, while Sopore clinic has already been reopened to provide the necessary psychosocial support” said Akke Boere, Country Director, MSF India.
As of Tuesday, September 23, 2014, MSF teams continue to monitor relief camps and are in touch with those committees.
MSF organised information desks to promote a better understanding of the effects of floods on mental health in Srinagar, at the University of Kashmir and Skims Soura, on the 15th and 18th of October respectively. MSF provided an opportunity to the people affected by the recent floods to speak to mental health professionals on symptoms, possible effects and ways to cope with them.