Nature’s fury has wreaked havoc on the people of Jammu & Kashmir, the worst floods in the State in nearly a century. The flood waters are 30-40 feet high in many places. Hundreds of people have died. Worst is the lot of those whose near and dear ones are missing. The relief that is being sent through air drops can only be reached to those on high ground, but the number of such spots are few and far between. In the true tradition of the Kashmiri people, those living in unaffected areas are offering shelter to those who have been rendered refugees regardless of sect and religion. People are organising the few boats available to row from house to house to reach whatever succour they can to the people.
The Ministry of Health swung into action as soon as the first reports of the floods broke out. Teams of doctors have been sent with medical supplies. Immediately after my return from Dhaka yesterday, where I went to attend the regional conference of the WHO, I called a meeting of the officers of my ministry. They gave me reports they were carrying about the situation in the State. I have alerted the Delhi Medical Association and Indian Medical Association to keep medical teams ready for despatch to the State.
I have been hearing from my friends of cases of misfortune and suffering. The health infrastructure has been seriously affected. Many health centres have been washed away. Hospitals have been hit by shortages of doctors, staff, medicines… everything. People are surviving on dry biscuits; hence, reaching them emergency medical aid is out of the question unless they fall within the operational area of the Army or the Air Force. I feel especially bad for those in need of life-saving drugs — patients of cancer, diabetes, asthma, those who need dialysis, etc. There is a heart-rending report in a television news channel on infants below one month old who have died for want of treatment.
I decided to go to Jammu this morning. On reaching there I held a meeting of officials at the circuit house. Then I proceeded to the Poonch sector where the local population is marooned because of waterlogging caused by incessant rains. Tomorrow, I will go to Srinagar and adjoining parts of Kashmir valley. I will try my best to motivate the few doctors, nurses and paramedics who have remained at their posts. I am praying for the Kashmiri people. May God give them the strength to cope with the distressful situation!
I have asked for additional consignments of emergency medicines to be despatched to Jammu where the destruction of property and marooning of people have acquired great proportions.
After reviewing the situation in the region during a day-long tour today, various kinds of antibiotics, oral rehydration solution sachets, anti- diarrhoeal drugs, chlorine tablets, bleaching powder, medicines for eye and skin infections, IV fluids and other essential drugs will be sent within the next few days.
We have already despatched a large quantity of medicines over the past week but, on witnessing the needs there, I feel we have to boost up the stocks to deal with the post-flood situation which from my experience tends to drag on for months. I have requested the State government officials to feel free to ask for anything because Prime Minister Narendra Modi has pledged whole-hearted support to the State at its hour of crisis.
Soon after arriving in Jammu, I held a meeting of State officials who included the divisional commissioner, the deputy commissioners of Jammu and Poonch, the director of health services, the medical superintendant of Medical College, Jammu, officials of the National Rural Health Mission, the chief engineer, public health engineering, and the municipal commissioner of Jammu.
I was accompanied by Joint Secretary Anshu Prakash, and Special Director General of Health Services Dr BD Athani. Tomorrow I will visit the Kashmir valley where the devastation to life and property is on a much larger scale.
In Poonch, I saw all-round devastation. Many houses and shops have been washed away due to flooding of River Poonch flowing by the town. I visited the local relief camp and interacted with the local people to know their difficulties. I assured them of full support from New Delhi.
I visited patients at the district hospital in Poonch. In the Poonch town, 26 people have reportedly died in the floods. I inquired into the conditions at other health facilities of the region also. When it was reported to me that there were problems with the diesel generator sets in the hospital in Jammu, I assured the local authorities of central help for their resolution.
A team of doctors from Central government hospitals is ready to be sent. The Indian Medical Association and Delhi Medical Association are also standing by. I have asked the commissioner to work out a detailed deployment plan.
The writer, Dr Harsh Vardhan, is Union Minister for Health & Family Welfare.