Kashmir Freezing, Desolate, Bereft Of Hope & Supplies

Kashmir Freezing, Desolate, Bereft Of Hope & Supplies

15 January 2012
Daily Pioneer
Khursheed Wani

Srinagar: For the seventh day in a row, people of Srinagar suffered sub-zero temperatures, and faced extreme shortage of essential commodities. Water sources have dried up and people are forced to melt snow to meet their needs. The vital Srinagar-Jammu National Highway is blocked due to heavy snowfall leading to acute shortage of fuel and food. Power scarcity has added to their woes. Old timers recall that the Valley never witnessed such severe cold in the last two decades. On Sunday, true to weatherman’s predictions, people woke up to watch fresh snowflakes descending and thickening last week’s snow cover. Paradoxically, the enchanting view of the snowfall, compounded their misery. Kashmir is going through Chilai Kalan, a 40-day phase of intense winter season ending January 31. The night temperature plummeted to minus 7.8 degrees Celsius in capital Srinagar, registering a 16-year-low. The peripheries of Dal Lake are covered with a thin sheet of ice while small water bodies’ surfaces have turned into play fields for children. The Ski resort of Gulmarg in north Kashmir has recorded the lowest of minus 15.2 degrees Celsius while its competitor in south, Qazigund, or the gateway of Kashmir, has recorded minus 13.4 degrees. The vital 300-kilometre Srinagar-Jammu National Highway, which was officially closed on Sunday morning following the fresh snowfall, is virtually blocked for the past 10 days. The authorities allowed sluggish traffic movement since Thursday enabling clearance of stranded passengers and supply trucks. However, the traffic movement continued amid chaos and lack of communication. Abdul Qayoom, a commuter who returned from Jammu on Saturday, night told The Pioneer that it took them 36 hours to travel on the risky 300-kilometer road. 'The traffic officials are invisible. There is utter confusion and mismanagement', he alleged. The perpetual blockade of the Highway and the interior roads has resulted into acute shortage of essential commodities. The cooking gas, kerosene oil, vegetables, fruits, baby milk and other essential commodities are fast disappearing from the market. Many fuel pumps have been closed for want of stocks. The 'invisible' administration, has given a free hand to hoarders, who have sold cooking gas cylinders for Rs 800 to desperate consumers. The situation worsened due to freezing of taps and water pipes. 'First time in my life, I have not taken a bath for last 10 days. There is no tap water. The geysers are not working. We fetch a bucket of water to run kitchen from a long distance', said Showkat Ahmad, a resident of Srinagar's Abiguzar area. The power situation is even worse. Authorities claim that the power supply was restored in entire Valley three days after the heavy snowfall on January 7. However, the ground situation belies the claim. 'The power supply has not been restored in 14 villages of Yorkhushipora belt in Qazigund', said journalist Farooq Rather, who hails from the area. With ground covered under thick layer of snow, the cloudless nights trigger a cold wave to crystallize the snow and freeze water. This makes pathways slippery and difficult for vehicles and walkers to negotiate. Hundreds of people have been admitted in lone Bone and Joint Surgeries Hospital in Srinagar. 'One person died after falling down on a slippery road. Another died when a tree branch fell on his head', said Rather narrating the ordeal of people in south Kashmir. Worse, two women died in south Kashmir's Tral belt as snowfall impeded medical aid to them. One of them Hajira from Chankitar village developed appendicitis but could not be taken to hospital. A culvert linking the village has been washed away by flashfloods a year ago. Another woman required labour but the hospital was inaccessible due to heavy snowfall. The only response from the government to the affected area was a casual visit by the deputy commissioner. 'The government's disaster management cell is a disaster in itself. They mint money on mock exercises in summer but miserably fail when it is time to act. The winter is not new to Kashmir but the government's response is appalling and horrible', said Muhammad Ashraf, joint secretary of Kashmir High Court Bar Association. However, the situation is likely to continue for another week with approaching western disturbances bringing fresh rains and snowfall. 'Moderate to heavy rainfall are expected to lash the plan areas, while fresh snowfall may be experienced in the higher reaches in Jammu and entire Kashmir region during the next 48 hours', Meteorological Department Director Sonam Lotus said. The western disturbance may cause snowfall in upper reaches of entire Jammu region including Doda, Kishtwar, Banihal, Ramban, Reasi, while entire Kashmir valley including Drass and Kargil will experience moderate to heavy snowfall during this period. 'The weather will remain same for the next five to six days after which it will start improving. The mercury level would also start rising in entire Jammu and Kashmir State,' Lotus said claiming the western disturbance originated from gulf region and after passing the snow clad mountainous regions of Iran and Afghanistan reached Jammu and Kashmir in the shape of cold wave.