Kashmir Floods: A mountaineer steps in to help the stranded

KARN KOWSHIK is a professional Indian mountaineer who was on his way up a mountain in India. But he changed his mind. After hearing about the devastating floods in Kashmir, and the rescue operations underway, Kowshik and his team abandoned their expedition to rescue and offer whatever relief they could to Kashmiris in need. Since then Kowshik and his group have volunteered in relief and rescue missions with the Kashmir Valley Disaster Flood Relief.  Reports indicate that an estimated 250 people have died in Kashmir since the flooding began two weeks ago. 

He spoke to the Daily Vox about why he joined the relief efforts.

Kashmir under flood [Sheikh Farooq]

My name is Karn. I am a professional mountaineer, and I brought with me a team of professional climbers, and people trained in rescue relief operations.

When I heard about the flood we were about to leave for an expedition to climb up the CB-13 mountain peak in Himachal Pradesh.

We realised that we are a team that has the right skills to possibly help out over here. I’ve worked in Kashmir, so I personally thought I wouldn’t be able to live with myself if I knew we could be helping people so instead we decided to go and find them. I had a whole team of seven around, and we’ve been here for a few days.

I connected with the youth relief effort in Delhi, and Muzamil Jalil (a Kashmiri journalist) is a friend of mine. We had a little bit of supplies with us, which is how we found our way here.

I’ve been on more than a few of these rescue and relief missions in the last few days, and there’s a lot that’s happening. Every day the needs are changing. The first few days it was essentially rescue; we had to bring people out of their neighbourhoods. A couple days before I got here, people needed to be moved from houses which had collapsed, [or] which were in danger of collapsing. Then it became a need to evacuate them from their neighbourhoods into safer areas, the problem being that while their houses might have been safe, and in a sense liveable, it was difficult to get people out because they were surrounded by water.

Now the need has changed to relief.

People need water, people need medicines, people need food, and possibly they need to be able to cook this food as well. Very soon we estimate that the need will be more medical in nature. There’s a lot of diseases. We’re beginning to see cholera, a lot of young children are complaining of diarrhoea. So, I suppose in future the need will be more medical.

Unfortunately, there’s only so little that we can do. We’re not the government, we’re not the army, we’re not the police. All we can do is plug in the gaps as best we can. I wish we had more at our disposal, but unfortunately we have to do what we can. That’s all we can do.

Of course, you know, when you look around it’s pretty terrible in the sense that it’s difficult to imagine how families will survive through this. Everyone I know has lost a lot of what they own. But as a relief team, you tend not to get sucked into the emotion of it. You tend to go in there and do your job. Of course the emotions drives your decisions, but when you’ve been doing this for a week, you tend to stop looking at it in an emotional way.

We took a father to rescue his one-month-old child who is getting sicker and sicker, and we brought this child out safely. The father came back and hugged us and made us feel good. It was really nice to see his face. We rescued a nine-month pregnant woman who was a few days away from delivery. It felt good that we could go in there and do that. If that’s all we achieve, I think that’s enough for us.

 – Image via Sheikh Yaqoob

* As told to the Daily Vox.