Urgent Rescue and Relief As North India Death Toll Rises | ActionAid UK

With the official death toll at over 1,000 and 50,000 people stranded, I spoke with ActionAid’s Barsha Chakraborty, who has been coordinating the aid effort in Uttarakhand, India’s worst hit state.

A man is pulled across to safety on a rope, as damaged buildings and the Alaknanda river are seen in the background, during a rescue operation in Govindghat in the Himalayan state of Uttarakhand
A man is pulled across to safety on a rope, as damaged buildings and the Alaknanda river are seen in the background, during a rescue operation in Govindghat in the Himalayan state of Uttarakhand

Barsha told me:

  • The situation here is catastrophic. People’s houses and animals have been washed away and many roads have simply disappeared.
  • The government is estimating the death toll at 1,000, but the reality is that more than 5,000 people are missing, presumed dead.
  • So far ActionAid has distributed food parcels and cooking utensils to the communities we can reach. 
  • Next we’ll start distributing baby food, medicine and rations.

Biggest Challenge: Access

Bordering the Himalayas the region was already hard to reach, with steep valleys and winding roads. The weather conditions are so bad, a rescue helicopter has crashed. Barsha told me:

Our biggest challenge right now is access. The roads have been badly damaged and many have collapsed entirely. We are getting as close as we can to the remote areas with our supplies.

The road to Badrinath on 1 June 2013, before the flooding.

The same road to Badrinath on 21 June 2013, destroyed by the floods.

Man-made or Natural Disaster?

The question of how far the devastation in north India has been man-made remains unanswered, but soil erosion caused by the excessive construction of dams along Uttarakhand’s main rivers has played its part and poses an additional threat.

ActionAid is particularly worried about the rampant dam construction all over the state which affects hundreds of villages along the banks of the major rivers. With no forest left to hold the earth, the threat of major landslides looms large.

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Full caption for this image:
A man is pulled across to safety on a rope, as damaged buildings and the Alaknanda river are seen in the background, during a rescue operation in Govindghat in the Himalayan state of Uttarakhand June 23, 2013. Flash floods and landslides unleashed by early monsoon rains have killed at least 560 people in Uttarakhand and left tens of thousands missing, officials said on Saturday, with the death toll expected to rise significantly. Houses and small apartment blocks on the banks of the Ganges, India’s longest river and sacred to Hindus, have toppled into the rushing, swollen waters and been swept away with cars and trucks.

REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui