Winter food crisis threatens landslide-hit villages in Indian Kashmir

by Ashutosh Sharma | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Monday, 17 November 2014 10:33 GMT

Villagers rebuild a mud house that was damaged by September rains in Udhampur district, Jammu and Kashmir, India. TRF/Ashutosh Sharma

Image Caption and Rights Information
Food crops were destroyed by September's floods, while state rations have yet to reach remote areas

JAMMU, India (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - With seasonal snowfall expected any day now, the 90 or so families who inhabit the isolated mountain village of Hill Kaka are worried they won’t have enough to eat during the coming winter.

They lost their entire food crop to devastating rains and landslides in September.

The Jammu and Kashmir state government has promised six months of free food rations to those affected by the rains and floods. But people in this hamlet tucked away deep in the Peer Panjal mountains, some 20km from the troubled border with Pakistan, complain they have yet to receive anything.

The village is usually blanketed in around 7 feet of snow for four months of the year, cutting it off from the outside world.

Already lacking basic amenities, such as roads, electricity and a clinic, things took a turn for the worse when September’s landslides killed five people and damaged property and fields.

“Government officials took details of our losses immediately after the disaster struck, but unfortunately no one has returned since,” said Hill Kaka resident Dil Pazeer.

There are hundreds of villages in the remote Indian Himalayas where people will have little to eat this winter without additional government help.

The state’s average annual grain production is about 1.8 million tonnes against a requirement of 2.3 million tonnes, official data show, and the food deficit is likely to worsen this year due to extreme weather, experts warn.

INADEQUATE COMPENSATION

The recent floods destroyed food crops on 313,000 hectares across Jammu and Kashmir, according to the government.

Almost none of the lost crops and no cattle were insured. Even though Chief Minister Omar Abdullah boosted the State Disaster Response Fund fivefold after the floods, farmers say the compensation allocated is “miserably inadequate”.

“The financial relief for de-silting agricultural land, removal of debris in hilly areas and loss of farms due to landslides must be enhanced substantially,” said farmer Krishan Kumar. Under the state scheme, only farmers who have suffered crop damage of more than 50 percent are eligible for aid, he added.

A weather-based crop insurance scheme was announced in India’s national budget in 2007, to protect farmers against financial losses caused by extreme weather.

But the Jammu and Kashmir authorities did not implement the scheme until August this year, and then only on a trial basis, covering just a few districts and two crops - paddy and saffron.

“It was a cosmetic step by the state government, which was faced with severe criticism over its indifference towards agriculture,” said M.K. Khushu, retired chief scientist for the agro-meteorology department of Jammu’s Sher-e-Kashmir University of Agricultural Sciences and Technology.

The insurance scheme also lacks technical and scientific sophistication, he noted. Implementation is complex because the mountainous region has different micro-climates, meaning weather-based insurance can work only with an adequate network of weather stations, which doesn’t yet exist, he added.

The majority of farmers are unaware of the new insurance scheme, including those living along the conflict-torn border with Pakistan who often suffer crop damage due to shelling in the disputed region.

PATCHY RATION DISTRIBUTION

Even though Jammu and Kashmir has 736,000 households living below the poverty line, its government has yet to implement a food security law adopted by the federal government last year.

In addition, a report tabled by a legislative committee in the Jammu and Kashmir assembly in February found fault with state’s public distribution system.

The department in charge had failed to make available the required quota of grain, kerosene and other essential commodities to people, especially those living in poverty, it said.

People in remote areas were deprived of rations because the government had not opened “fair price shops” in places without roads, the report added. It quoted villagers saying the department had stopped issuing new ration cards in 2011.

The subsidised ration system - which is also plagued by allegations of corruption - operates on the basis of a 2001 census, with least 300,000 families lacking ration cards in Jammu and Kashmir.

The threat of a food crisis for flood-affected people in the mountains this winter is even worse as there are no facilities for storing food rations in remote areas cut off by snow.

In Rangoor village in Samba district, September’s floods changed the course of the Basantar River, robbing residents of their land.

“Our farms - spread over 1,500 hectares - have been damaged by floods. The paddy and vegetables grown on vast areas lie buried under a thick layer of sand, stones and boulders left behind by the floods,” lamented village head Natha Ram.

S.S. Jamwal, director of agriculture for the Jammu region, said crops had already been damaged this year by hailstorms followed by a dry spell and delayed rains.

“The extreme rains (in September) are likely to have an impact on the next crop season as well, and may almost double the state’s annual food deficit,” he warned.

(Editing by Megan Rowling)

Ashutosh Sharma is a journalist based in Jammu and Kashmir, India.

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