In Depth

As River Sindh throws up the dead, its waters keep feeding the living

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Flowing downstream from an altitude of almost 3000 meters through the terrains of Sonmarg, River Sindh has been a vital source of water to Central Kashmir including Srinagar. But lately, the water body is throwing dead bodies, ‘like never before’, making people sceptical about its water that runs into their household taps.

By the time people again crowded the banks of River Sindh in Ganderbal this past August, a disturbing visual pattern had taken a form. In the countrified circles, they now call it a death-knell roaring river—which otherwise is known to provide the best retreating experience—for devouring lives, alarmingly.

That summer day, the shocked onlookers were looking at another tragedy unfolding in the roaring river belly filled with boulders and nestled in the backdrop of the picturesque valley. They were looking at the floating, swollen dead man, who had mysteriously vanished some time back.

After days of frenetic search, the river Sindh had finally vomited out the puffed-up body of Shakeel Awan of Satrina Kangan. The 24-year-old boy had been missing since July 9, 2018. His final address in Sindh had simply brought forth the water crisis.

Sindh’s freshwater is known to feed households with drinking water. But given the escalated number of dead bodies fished out of it now, many have now become sceptical about its quality.

The river not just unfolds secrets of missing bodies but often becomes the unfortunate graveyard for people like Kulsuma Rashid. The 25-year-old teacher was engulfed by the gushing waters while taking a Selfie—a proven sign of unsound mentality—and couldn’t be traced.

This is now becoming a routine of sorts for the river, grappling with illegal constructions along its course and unabated encroachment. But now as a cradle of dead, the water body has already shown some serious signs.

River Sindh

In a recent case of a diarrhoea outbreak in Ganderbal, around 200 patients were diagnosed with gastrointestinal infection. Among them, 75 were referred to the district hospital after they complained of diarrhoea, vomiting and abdominal pain. The outbreak of the disease was attributed to “contaminated drinking water” supplied by the PHE department in the areas. Sindh remains the fountainhead of drinking water in Reshipora and Shahpora area of Ganderbal, where the disease outbreak triggered panic.

Contaminated supply of water is a regular suffering in Ganderbal. Earlier in 2012, an alert was sounded in villages of Kangan, including Rayil, Kullan, Gund, Haknar and Fraw, after 15 people were admitted in a hospital. Last year, even residents of Manigam, Nunner and Serch complained about the unfiltered water.

Around 65 percent of the population in Jammu and Kashmir, according to the official data, has access to tap water. While 34.7 percent get water from treated sources, 29.2 percent from untreated sources. In district Ganderbal, the locals often gripe that the ‘untreated water’ contaminated with dead bodies often makes way to their homes.

Till now, says Khalil Ahmad Poswal, the SSP Ganderbal, fives dead bodies have been retrieved from river Sindh, which is the primary source of water to the area. Among the dead were teens and adults—who drowned in the canal, while taking a bath. And the same water in which boys often swim is supplied to people by PHE.

People trying to trace the body of a teacher in Sindh river.

But it’s growing ‘graveyard’ image which is now making Sindh a perilous water body.

Lately, when the authorities shut down the power canal to search the body of a drowned teenager, they accidentally found the dead body of another person—Mohammad Amin Shah, 45, of Benhama, Laar Ganderbal. His dead body was found in a highly suspicious condition, with rope-tied feet. The family had not even filed a missing report. In another incident, the body of Nadeem Bashir of Hayan Palpora was fished out from the power canal at Prang.

Even as fishing out of dead bodies from the water body has become a regular feature now, the people of the area are continuously being fed the same water, ‘without proper treatment’.

“Presence of dead bodies in water will attract insects, flies and maggots,” says Dr Khan Khawar Achakzai, Register in SMHS. “The swelling of a body will lead to release of fecal waste. This will eventually lead to an increase in bacterial growth and fungus in the water body.”

This can further cause gastrointestinal infections, the doctor says, which in rare cases can be fatal, depending on the person’s immune system. These health woes are likely to escalate in the face of rising body counts in Sindh.

A few days before her wedding, a bride Parveena suddenly jumped into the water canal in Ganderbal. She ended her life near the reservoir from where the water is taken through pipes by PHE and supplied to the areas down the canal. Before her, 30-year-old man and father of three children, Zubair Khan, who lived a few miles away from the canal, ended his life by jumping into the reservoir after he had a ‘heated argument with his wife’.

“People have been forced to use the contaminated water in which dead remain for days together,” says Sofi Imtiyaz of Duderhama, Ganderbal. “It looks like the district administration is sitting over the crisis.” At times, he continues, even boiling the water does not help. “The river seems to have become a home of tragedies and the same water is supplied untreated to the population.”

Shockingly, at the time of publishing this story, another dead body has been fished out of river Sindh. Wahida Akhtar, 25, had been missing from her home since September 26. The onlookers who turned up at the banks of Sindh to witness another water death shuddered when they learned that Wahida was the sister of Shakeel Awan, who had drowned in the same canal, five months ago.

Clearly, as the fatality is rising, Sindh is sadly becoming a graveyard, whose waters feed the living.


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