A sea of humanity in flood-ravaged Punjab

BY VISHAL GULATI

Ferozepur (Punjab), Aug 23 (IANS) It is a sea of humanity in this part of the flood-ravaged border district and elsewhere in Punjab where several social organizations in coordination with the Indian Army, the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) and also local authorities have been in the forefront to provide Guru's 'langar' (free meal) and shelter to locals in flood waters.

More than 300 villages, mainly in Ropar, Anandpur Sahib, Jalandhar, Kapurthala and Ferozepur districts, have been badly hit by the swollen Satluj river, damaging crops and forcing tens of thousands of villagers to spend nights on rooftops. This was the worst flood in 40 years.

However, volunteers of the Shriomani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC), considered a mini-Parliament of Sikh religious affairs, are moving from village to village to provide temporary shelters and holding community kitchens around the clock for the marooned villagers.

Outfits like the Khalsa Aid and volunteers of Kar Sewa Takhat Sachkhand Sri Hazur Sahib in Nanded, Maharashtra, and Baba Balbir Singh Seechewal, among other organizations, are also coming forward to extend a helping hand to those in distress.

Even the Indian Army has airdropped over 20,000 food and water packets in the state.

"We are grateful to these Army men who came to our rescue by providing us food, medicines and items of our daily sustenance. We have lost almost everything in this food," octogenarian Naib Kaur, a resident of a village close to Zira town in Ferozepur, told IANS on Friday.

She said volunteers of the SGPC were visiting the area three times a day in a boat to deliver Guru's 'langar'.

Another villager, Ajaib Singh said there was rise in skin-related diseases in the area owing to contaminated water and poor sanitation.

"Doctors of the Army are regularly coming here to hold medical relief camps," he said.

People here are mainly suffering from diarrhoea, gastroenteritis, fungal and skin diseases, he added.

Pakistan adds woes to villagers settled along the International Border.

At least 17 villages in Punjab located along the India-Pakistan border are the worst hit. Locals rue that Pakistan has released toxic water of tanneries in the Satluj that has created havoc in their villages.

The Sutlej water enters Pakistan via a creek and because of the river's natural course, it flows back near Tindiwala village in Ferozepur and then towards Fazilka from Hussainiwala headworks.

This time it is bringing huge flows of highly toxic waste of leather tanneries in Kasur district of Pakistan to India.

Ferozepur Deputy Commissioner Chander Gaind told IANS that Pakistan has opened gates of a dam built over the Sutlej in Kasur district.

"This has not only aggravated floods towards the Indian side but also brought huge toxic pollutants released from tanneries of Pakistan," he said.

The pollutants have spiked skin-related diseases in at least 17 villages located along the border, said Gaind.

Even the livestock was worst affected. Gatti Rajoke is the last village in India that is close to the International Border.

Ferozepur legislator Parminder Pinki said the Indian Army and the NDRF have rescued more than 500 villagers and regularly holding medical camps in assistance with the local administration.

He said the increase of water toxicity towards the Indian side in every monsoon was a regular problem. "This time Pakistan has deliberately released the toxic waste that has affected our 17 villages."

Farmer Kuldeep Singh said: "Not only people are facing the risk of diseases owing to release of the toxic waste but also there is a threat to their livestock."

Even Border Security Force (BSF) fencing and its few outposts have been damaged due to the floods.

Videos have been uploaded on Twitter and other social networking sites by people, showing volunteers carrying relief and food materials in neck-deep water from house to house.

After touring the flood-hit areas with his wife and Union Minister Harsimrat Kaur, Akali Dal President Sukhbir Singh Badal has appealed to party activists to stand by those who are in distress.

He even asked the SGPC to support suffering people in every possible manner by holding 'langars'.

"Visited the #flood affected villages of Sultanpur Lodhi. Sharing their pain, people blamed the Congress govt for the misery wrought on them as it didn't conduct the required flood protection works besides failing to check illegal mining which eroded river embankments," Badal tweeted on Thursday.

He said the Congress government in Punjab did not even react appropriately to the warning given by the Bhakra Beas Management Board on August 13 that it would be constrained to release water from the Bhakra dam on August 17.

"It should have taken measures at weak points besides sending relief material in advance to take care of any eventuality," he said.

Union Food Processing Industries Minister Harsimrat Kaur Badal said she had received widespread complaints from the people that though the flood waters had destroyed thousands of acres of paddy crop and even damaged houses in villages and adequate relief had not reached the affected people.

"Keeping in view this sentiment, I approached several food processing companies and they have donated dry rations including milk powder, biscuits, ready to eat snacks as well as one lakh litres of beverages and bottled water," she added.

Reviewing the ground situation, Chief Minister Amarinder Singh on Thursday announced his government would canalise all the rivers with technical support from the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank.

Going around Sarupwal in Sultanpur Lodhi sub-tehsil, where the overflowing the Sutlej river led to a breach in the Dhusi embankment, affecting 62 villages, he promised due compensation to the affected farmers as soon as the water recedes and special 'girdwari' (loss assessment) is completed.

He said the state along with the Indian Army and the NDRF were taking all possible measures to reach essential supplies to all affected people.

Notwithstanding the hardship and losses suffered, everyone will be duly compensated, he said.

As per government estimates, 30,000 people are impacted in Nawanshahr, Ludhiana, Phillaur, Shahkot and Lohian areas and the crop damage was reported in 108 villages. There are 14 breaches in the Satluj.

(Vishal Gulati can be reached at vishal.g@ians.in)

--IANS

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