22.11.2014 Our Earth

Kashmir Needs Our Help

Victims of Kashmir's floods need our help before the onset of harsh winter. Story by Jeremy Ball

We are coming into summer in Australia and the streets of Sydney are covered with water and the slopes of the Blue Mountains with snow. Weather patterns around the world are crazy as we continue to flood our atmosphere with poisons and weather altering gases, cut down forests and change the paths of rivers.

I have recently returned from a trip to Ladakh high in the Himalayas in northwest India, which is normally sunny with wide blue skies at this time of year. But this September it was covered in cloud and our group was fortunate that our plane sneaked in through a gap for after we landed the heavens were blanketed by thick clouds and no flights came or went for several days.

The clouds were the edge of a great monsoon raging over Kashmir, 400 kilometres due west. From September 2, torrential rain poured down on the state of Jammu and Kashmir, on the disputed border between Pakistan and India. Rivers broke their banks and poured huge amounts of water down into the valleys and cities including Srinagar, Kashmir's largest city with a population of approximately 13 million people.

In Srinagar, most parts of the city were underwater with the level in many areas rising to 12 feet (more than 3.5 metres), submerging entire houses and swallowing up those not made of concrete. In many of the outlying villages, people fared much worse with their homes set amongst their farms laid out close to the floodplains. Whole villages were submerged and people washed away in the fast flowing floodwaters or overwhelmed by the inevitable landslides. Most village buildings in Kashmir are built with mud bricks unable to resist floodwaters.

In total, more than 100,000 homes were destroyed in Kashmir alone leaving 300,000 people homeless. Despite many valiant rescues by local residents and the Indian Army, the flood claimed at least 280 lives in Kashmir, while 203 were reported dead across the border in Pakistan. These figures are reported to be gross underestimates with many more people at risk since the floods through exposure due to lack of housing and unsanitary conditions, as well as inadequate food supplies.

While the Indian Government mobilised aid resources, they arrived very slowly and it refused offers of aid from overseas. There are reports of Indian Government aid being swallowed up by endemic corruption with very little finding its way to the regions outside Srinagar - and this is where people are homeless and with minimal food as the harsh winter is fast approaching. The average temperature in Srinagar is 17C to 25C from May to September, their summer, but drops to temperatures of -3C to 7C from November to March and much colder in sheltered valleys.

The people of Kashmir need localised assistance right now to rebuild homes before winter sets in. Families are reported to be crowded into single rooms with multiple families sharing a single home. Many have simple tents and others just what they can cobble together for makeshift housing. Others have moved to stay with friends and relatives least affected by the floods.

Author and sacred activist Andrew Harvey was the tour leader for the Transformational Tours group I took to Ladakh. Andrew stayed on in India after our pilgrimage to rest and visit relatives. During this time he was pick pocketed losing his travel documents, not an easy thing to replace in the often cumbersome government bureaucracies of South India, causing him to stay on in India for a few more weeks.

While waiting for the paperwork to come through, Andrew visited a friend in the South Indian tourist village of Mahabalipuram. Umar, who is from Kashmir and spends the holiday season running the family business there, told Andrew of the devastation of his home village and the destruction of the family home. He recounted the suffering of many people in Kashmir who were facing not only a shortage of relief supplies but also chaotic delivery of the aid.

Andrew immediately saw the divine intervention to have him stay in India and visit his friend. He gave the family his income from the Ladakh pilgrimage to begin the rebuilding of their family home.

Kashmir and the Sufi tradition that has a stronghold in that land are two of Andrew's great loves and he has decided to stay on longer in India, visit Kashmir to get an on the ground report and gather funds from his friends and students around the world to help provide specific aid for people in Kashmir. Rather than plough the money raised into government aid programs, which would have minimal effect and are not guaranteed to find their mark, Andrew has committed to raise $55,000 to directly provide the resources for five families to rebuild their homes. These families will, in turn, assist extended family and other people and get their farms up and producing again, providing food for the wider community. In this way, Andrew can ensure 100% of the money reaches those in need and the people who will use it wisely.

Many Kashmiris are furious at the Indian Government for what they consider a woefully inadequate rescue mission with many people left for days on the rooftops of flooded buildings, and the meagre aid that has followed. Kashmir is a remote area of India with mainly Muslim residents. People living in this state often feel they are treated by the government as second class citizens compared to people living in the major cities. Incensed by the lack of support, many Kashmiris have recently been protesting, some even resorting to throwing rocks at teams delivering aid.

Although the Indian Government rescued 250,000 from the floodwaters, local self organised groups rescued more than one million and local youths also helped the Indian Army locate people trapped in remote villages. The Indian Government refused aid offered by overseas countries that could have been of vital help to people on the ground.

So with the Indian Government either unable or uninterested in offering the required help to Kashmiris, we are appealing to NOVA readers to raise at least $11,000, enough to rebuild a rural home in Kashmir and house an extended family. It is imperative that this is done before winter sets in. This family will then spread their good fortune through the community.

Jeremy Ball

At 26, following a “shamanic intervention”, Jeremy closed his business and left London to visit sacred sites and elders, later creating Transformational Tours and SacredFire.

When not roaming mother earth, you will find Jeremy at home in Byron Bay's hinterland, playing with his children and planning the next adventure. jeremy@transformationaltours.com.au