As the rains transmogrify into ‘killer monsoons’ and north India reels under its wrath, we as a nation must come together and extend our help and compassion to those most affected by the ravages of nature. With the states of Uttarakhand and Himachal being pulverised by torrential rains since last Saturday, and the death roll already having crossed 81, while leaving over 73,000 pilgrims en route to Kedarnath and Badrinath stranded in dangerous conditions, the situation has really aggravated. As images of the monsoon mayhem dominate our television screens and newspapers, what we should not forget is that our response should go beyond a concerted effort to rescue those who are stuck in precarious positions, being left without food, drinking water, or even access to basic sanitation or medical facilities. Although the army has been called in with 5,000 soldiers deployed in the worst-affected areas, in addition to the National Disaster Response Force, which has set up a base camp in Gaurikund, 14 km from Kedarnath, rescue operations might require more assistance in terms of providing the people with food grains, clothing and shelter. Even though air force helicopters are being used to airlift stranded victims, pilgrims, tourists and residents, continuing onslaught of cloud bursts, incessant downpour and landslides keep ravaging the regions, showing no indication of an imminent stoppage. Worse, the water levels in the major rivers and their tributaries are rising at an alarming rate, giving off flood warnings in vast swathes of northern India, including within our national capital territory, and other states like Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.
While the watery deluge in the hilly states competes with the flood of television footage of drowned vehicles, collapsed bridges, destroyed houses and temples and people stranded or washed away by swirling surge of rain-swollen rivers, the lone image of a giant statue of Lord Shiva withstanding the gush in the town of Rishikesh comes as a huge relief. In moments like these does one reaffirm his or her faith in the human existence, and gather enough strength to carry on. While we begrudge the appalling inefficiencies of the National Disaster Management Authority to counter the catastrophes that seem to hit the country with bewildering regularity, we must not forget that in times like this, intangible gestures of solidarity with those worst hit by the killer monsoons make a big difference. We as a country must stand shoulder to shoulder with the rain ravaged and contribute everything that we can to bring the people out of their misery. Besides timely evacuations and rescue operations, providing the rain-hit with adequate supply of daily life-sustaining amenities and rehabilitating them as soon as possible should become the immediate priorities of not just the state governments but also the centre. Also, it is also about time that the government wakes up to the unfortunate fact that the NDMA needs some serious overhaul in terms of its responsibilities and the manner they are being executed. The absence of a worthwhile disaster management force has hit the country far too many times to let the issue remain unaddressed any longer.