Flood survivors angry at relief response

2013-06-24 21:31
Indian residents and travellers walk past vehicles stranded by silt deposited by floodwaters in Chamoli district in the northern Indian state of Uttarakhand. (Indian Army, AFP)

Indian residents and travellers walk past vehicles stranded by silt deposited by floodwaters in Chamoli district in the northern Indian state of Uttarakhand. (Indian Army, AFP)

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New Delhi - Survivors of deadly floods in northern India have criticized the government's relief efforts as thousands remain at risk of starvation and disease.

Heavy rains unseen in decades unleashed flash floods that washed away houses, roads and bridges in the Himalayan state of Uttarakhand, know for the multitude of its religious sites. The death toll is expected to exceed 1,000.

The natural disaster overwhelmed state officials, prompting the government to call in the Indian Army to help with relief efforts.

Some 90,000 people have been evacuated since the floods on June 15-16 and some 20,000 others, mainly Hindu pilgrims, remain stranded in remote areas such as Kedarnath, Gaurikund and Harsil. Hundreds of people are missing.

Mass cremations were planned to contain the spread of disease as more rain was expected. Thousands face starvation.

Survivors said state officials had failed to issue flood warnings, which would have saved lives.

"We starved for three days, surviving on biscuits and rationing drinking water in our group," said Malti Gupta, a 70-year-old pilgrim who had to walk 10 kilometres to escape the floods. "There was no sign of any official or disaster response teams coming to our aid."

Relatives and friends of those missing have protested outside government offices in the state capital Dehradun.

Survivors have complained of looting and abuse.

"It is shameful that people who have survived a disaster face another threat at the hands of their fellow-humans. There is no law and order in the worst-hit areas," Ragini Rawat, a Dehradun school teacher said.

Indian media said Uttarakhand, which has a past of flash-floods and earthquakes, was unprepared for the disaster.

The Times of India daily citing the national auditor said the state disaster authority, formed in 2007, was "virtually non-functional."

Environmental activist Sunita Narain called it a man-made disaster, blaming unauthorised constructions along river banks and rampant felling of forests. Mountain slopes in many areas have been destabilized by the construction of dams, she said.

Uttarakhand Disaster Relief Minister Jaspal Arya defended the government.

"The worst-ever rains in Uttarakhand in almost 88 years set off a Himalyan Tsunami. What can the government do? It cannot prevent a natural disaster," he said.

"Roads and infrastructure are damaged, cellular services are disrupted. We are working round the clock for rescue and relief operations and the troops are putting their lives in danger to save others".

Read more on:    india  |  floods

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