Uttarakhand Flood Tragedy and Our Relief Efforts

Since the flooding of Mother Ganga and Her tributaries in the Himalayas last week, Parmarth has been actively engaged in relief work. The death toll has now crossed 1000 but everyone knows it will be probably several times that by the time the waters recede and the mud/sludge is removed from the roads and hillsides. Each day, more and more bodies are found along the river’s banks, in rubble, or smothered by avalanches.

On the 16th – 17th June, Mother Ganga’s waters rose to heights unseen in over 100 years. The roads, homes, towns and villages lining Her banks were no match. One after the other, buildings collapsed into rubble or into the rushing waters. Others were soon completely underwater or smothered by landslides. Nearly 100 dharmshalas, packed full of pilgrims fell into the river. Hundreds of cars toppled off foundation-less roads. Roads were destroyed. Bridges collapsed. Countless lives were lost, as were property, possessions and hopes. It is the month of June, the summer vacation season of India when millions of devotees flock from their homes to the sacred Char Dham Yatra pilgrimage of the Uttarakhand Himalayas to offer their prayers in the four holy temples.

Tens of thousands of these pilgrims are still stranded in the high Himalayas. Nearly 20,000 are missing and likely dead. In so many families, a large group traveled together, full of faith and piety, on this holy journey……One or two have survived, having watched their loved ones be taken by the water, the mud and the rocks.

Our work so far is in different categories:

Emergency, Immediate Relief for Stranded Pilgrims:

  • We have set up 2 large relief camps in Rishikesh, one at the bus stand and one at the train station where food, water, medical care and shelter are provided for everyone.
  • We have also set up mobile phone charging areas so people can charge their phones to call their loved ones.
  • We have hired 20 buses which we send up into the mountainous affected areas laden with medicines, food supplies, blankets, warm clothes and mobile phones so that they may all call their loved ones. These buses deposit the goods for the people stranded there, and then carry as many people back down as possible. They will continue to make these back and forth journeys — bringing life saving food, medicines and blankets to the stranded pilgrims and shuttling people down — until no one is left stranded.
  • We are in the process of trying to acquire more buses also.
  • We have set up a 100-bed rest/night halt area at the Rishikesh bus stand for all those who arrive back into Rishikesh late at night after traveling all day down the mountain. After getting food and medical care, they at least have a covered, secure place to spend the night before catching their onward bus/train back home.
  • We have coordinated with the Railway Ministry to provide free rail travel to all survivors of the flood.
  • We have set up a fully computerized, internet-connected station in the relief camp which will coordinate with government officials and team volunteers in the affected areas. As survivors are located and put onto buses, their name/photo and address will be sent by email or fax or phone down to our office where we will broadcast it all on the huge LCD screen we have put up there. In that way the panicked family members who are thronging the bus stands and railway stations, jumping onto each arriving bus full of hope to spot their loved ones, will have a clear way of knowing who is coming by what vehicle.

Immediate Relief for Surviving Villagers:

  • While a large percentage of the affected people were pilgrims, there has also been extraordinary loss of life and loss of property for the local villagers who have spent generations living on the mountains beside Ganga.
  • For them, in the immediate stage while the monsoon season is still on (and therefore no real construction can be done) we are providing medicines, non-perishable food, blankets, warm clothes and kitchen utensils for cooking as well as many other household necessities.
  • Each day more and more vehicles depart from Rishikesh full of supplies for the needy.

Long-Term Relief and Rehabilitation:

  • Orphans and Widows: We have informed the government that we will take care of all those who were orphaned or widowed in this tragedy. Anyone orphaned or widowed by the floods, from any state, will be given permanent shelter and care.
  • We are also planning for permanent rehabilitation of the Char Dham areas, particularly the hard-hit Kedarnath area. We will be adopting the village of Rambara and other areas, and reconstruction will be done in eco-friendly, green, sustainable ways to prevent future tragedies.
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