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Floods, Landslides Devastate Northern India

Floods and landslides in northern India have killed more than 1,000 people and stranded about 70,000, many of whom are tourists and pilgrims, with little food and shelter.

Beginning in mid-June 2013 with the onset of summer monsoon season, incessant heavy rainfalls have inundated the Indian states of Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand and surrounding areas. The Indian army alone rescued more than 18,000 people via special buses and helicopters.

The mountainous terrains of Himachal Pradesh are home to several major and historic Hindu pilgrimage sites, such as Badrinath, and at least one major historic Sikh pilgrimage site, the Hemkund Sahib, besides several tourist spots and trekking venues. To help those affected by the floods, the army has deployed 10,000 soldiers and 11 helicopters, the navy has sent 45 naval divers, and the air force has deployed 43 aircraft including 36 helicopters.

Many people are using social media to find information about their family members and acquaintances. Photographs and helpline numbers have been uploaded and shared on social media sites. Google has set up its Google Person Finder service both in Hindi and English to offer information on missing people in the flood effected areas. Media Nama has a list of important initiatives and numbers to help. IBNLive has created a live storify blog to aggregate information about missing persons and pictures from the disaster place.

New Delhi radio DJ José Covaco (@hoozay) urged people to push IBNLive's blog on social media:

@HoeZaay: Lots of useful numbers here. RT like crazy pls. RT @sardesairajdeep How you can help ukhand flood victims http://t.co/dGOa2tJTCT

Anurag Khanna (@AnuragJtpac) from Kochi called for offline action from activists, as well:

@AnuragJtpac: How many of you on Twitter are going to #uttarakhand to help out. I am sure many from Delhi can just drive up. Lets see the unity #india

The flooding has made for frightening scenes captured on video. Here is footage shot by a pilgrim depicting a bus plunging down from a road damaged from landslide. Eyewitness says that the bus was carrying more than 30 passengers who were never seen again.

Indian National Congress President Sonia Gandhi has asked all members of parliament to donate one month of their salary to help relief work. However, PhD student Sunny Singh (@sunnysingh_nw3) noted:

@sunnysingh_nw3: I WISH #India politicos of ALL parties would stop bloody touring #Uttarakhand – they use up precious resources that could be used for relief

Pandit Kuldeep Vyas (@PtKuldeepVyas), a legal practitioner from Rajasthan, is against politicization of the disaster:

@PtKuldeepVyas: #Uttarakhand tragedy should not be politicized… Shame on you corrupt netas :-( What would we do without the Army. pic.twitter.com/vcIYrO8uVm

Indian Army evacuating stranded tourists and pilgrims from Uttarkhand. Image by Bhaskar Mallick. Copyright Demotix (20 June, 2013)

Indian Army evacuating stranded tourists and pilgrims from Uttarkhand. Image by Bhaskar Mallick. Copyright Demotix (20 June, 2013)

Amid stories of heroism and courage during evacuation and humanitarian response, it is being revealed that those stranded were also subjected to exploitation, manipulation, and blackmail. One account told of a passenger taxi driver charging a stunning 15,000 rupees (about 300 US dollars) for a 200-km journey for four refugees.

‏Political commenter Saral Patel (@PatelSaral) was furious over a story of a restaurant asking flood victims the equivalent of ten US dollars for a bowl of rice and almost four US dollars for bread:

@PatelSaral007: Uttarakhand trauma: A bowl of rice for Rs 500 and Rs 180 for a roti http://ow.ly/mhCKP #Shame

Yash Gaddhyan (‏@yashgaddhyan) slammed the attempts to extort money from victims:

@yashgaddhyan: We live in a country where people try to make money even if a disaster has occurred. #Uttarakhand

Geetika (@ggiittiikkaa) noted the chaos in relief distribution:

@ggiittiikkaa: No officials to organise, collect & carry relief stuff…no attendants to distribute relief stuff when choppers land. Chaos in #Uttarakhand

Journalist Aabhas Pandya (@abyboy) criticized the silence of the corporate sector in boosting the relief operations:

@abyboy: Corporate India's stunning silence over Uttarakhand devastation surprising…not even a word, no help, no choppers! #uttarakhand

The Indian army is attempting to evacuate residents from the flood ravaged Uttarakhand. Image by Prabhat Kumar Verma. Copyright Demotix (20 June 2013)

The Indian army is attempting to evacuate residents from the flood ravaged Uttarakhand. Image by Prabhat Kumar Verma. Copyright Demotix (20 June 2013)

Opinions are abound on whether this disaster is natural or man-made. Several human practices, including unplanned construction along the banks of the Himayalan rivers are blamed as a cause of this disaster. Mechanical engineer and management student Karthick noted in his blog:

The so called Char Dham Yatra [Hindu pilgrimage] has had 3 Crore [30 million] visitors in the previous year. Tourism has been one of the major contributions to the state. Despite that the infrastructure had been poor and the Government never had intentions of developing the roads and facilities.

Blogger Rishi Aggarwaal argued that due to increased population, there should be an annual entry quota for the Char Dham Yatra pilgrimage.

Journalist Vineet Khare (@vineetkhare) warned the media not to resort to sensationalism during reporting:

@vineetkhare: Dear reporters, please do not reduce the Uttarakhand tragedy into a television tamasha (farce).

Meanwhile, the rain isn't stopping, adding to the misery of thousands of people. Engineering student Sagar Singh (@RtSagar) wrote:

@RtSagar: ‏It's raining in many parts of U'khand! Not again God, have some mercy on us! #Uttarakhand

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