A participant of a Caritas disaster risk reduction course learns how to improvise and find efficient ways to carry water in the case a massive natural disaster. (Photo by Umar Asif)
Catholic social workers are training vulnerable people of Kashmir in northern India on ways to save lives during frequent natural disasters.
The Jammu and Kashmir state government and Caritas are jointly running a disaster risk reduction pilot project in 10 villages.
Altaf Lone, program coordinator of Caritas India, notes that the Kashmir Valley is prone to disasters such as floods, earthquakes, landslides and avalanches as well as high velocity winds.
Research carried out by Ruheela Hassan Islamic University of Kashmir showed that between 1889 and 1990 the state experienced at least 170 earthquakes.
Quakes, snowstorms, floods and heavy rains have killed tens of thousands of people in the region during recent decades.
For example, a 2005 7.4-magnitude quake killed 1,350 people on the Indian side of the border and 79,000 people in the other part of Kashmir administered by Pakistan.
In 2014, Kashmir flooding claimed some 460 lives.
As well as basic medical training, rescue techniques and relief camp management, people are taught to engage in contingency planning.
Residents are advised to prepare to flee if needed by arranging personal documents, drinking water, non perishable food, ropes and radios as well as medicines and lights with extra batteries.
Locals are also provided with contacts and information on insuring their crops against natural catastrophes.
Caritas has conducted 20 training workshops in the 10 selected villages in the southern area of Kashmir and plans to expand the project to more districts.
Nadia Muzzafar, a project collaborator, said local youths volunteer to act as relief workers when disasters strike.
They learn, for example, how to issue updates on flood levels and the importance of cautioning people not to panic.
Junaid Mansoor, a research scholar from Kashmir University, told ucanews.com that a lack of the disaster preparedness in the past had exacerbated causalities and property damage.
He complained that people were still slow to learn from past mistakes and that official support remained dismally inadequate.
Mansoor said the state government was yet to produce an overall disaster plan despite four major disasters in the past 13 years.
However, the state’s Minister for Disaster Management and Relief, Javaid Musfata, told ucanews.com that the government has prioritized disaster management.
"You will soon see emergency operation centers in all districts and regular mock exercises to test preparedness," he said.