Caked in thick mud, fields still useless in Ladakh

By Suhas Munshi, IANS
Thursday, November 25, 2010

PHYANG - A bitter winter is setting in, it has been nearly two-and-a-half months since flash floods wreaked havoc in Leh district of Jammu and Kashmir, but locals are still waiting for the government to clear the thick crust of mud that has rendered their fields useless.

“This silt covering our fields has now hardened like cement. Clearing it with bare hands is impossible, and nothing can be sown in it either,” said Mohd Azghar, a resident.

“All our stored stock of food has been washed away, and with the fields gone too, we do not know how we will survive this winter,” he added.

The region saw a severe downpour Aug 6. Over 200 people were killed and scores of families left homeless as a series of cloudbursts devastated Choglamsar and other villages adjoining Leh town.

In the days since, layer after layer of mud has hardened in the fields, with some places buried under a five-feet thick crust. Thousands of acres of standing crops have been destroyed.

Officials say work is in progress.

“We have only started to work on the fields now, around two-three bulldozers have been deployed in every village to clear the mud. In some cases, where the land has been destroyed completely, we can’t do much but compensate the victims by giving them land elsewhere,” said T. Angchok, deputy commissioner, Leh-Ladakh.

This is not the first time the region has had to endure the dual blow of natural calamity and official apathy.

Cloudbursts in 2005 and 2006 too had caused massive loss to life and property. But in terms of severity, the cloudburst of August 2010 was the worst.

Agriculture is the mainstay of the Ladakhi economy, supporting around 80 percent of the population. Around 600 out of a total of 12,000 hectares of cultivable land has been destroyed, and the sowing season will be upon them in March.

“We’ve asked for Rs.18 crore from the centre and they’ve assured us all possible assistance. Based on that assurance, we started work anyway. It will be foolish to wait for funds before we start work if we are to ready our fields for the next sowing season,” said Angchok.

Tonnes of mud washed away from mountains also swept away almost half of the region’s livestock. Official figures put the number at over 2,000.

In this tumultuous period, it is NGOs that have come forward to help.

Oxfam India was one of the first agencies to reach Leh after the floods, and is extending invaluable help.

“Most Ladakhis store wheat and barley for consumption during winter, which are ground using water mills. Since a lot of water mills were destroyed by the floods, we sent some mobile grinders to nine villages and helped around 1,055 families in stocking crushed wheat and barley,” Oxfam India’s humanitarian response manager Zubin Zama said.

Another NGO, Censfood (Centre for Sustainable Development and Food Security), assisted the locals by creating food banks and canals.

In Phyang, it has built a 400-feet canal that will become the primary source of irrigation for local farmers in the sowing season.

“Right now, we don’t have much to do except wait for the government and NGOs to clear the rubble from the fields. We can only hope they do it on time, we don’t know how much longer the government rations will last,” Phyang’s village head Stanzin Dorje said.

Filed under: Accidents and Disasters

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