Over two weeks after floods and landslides ravaged the northern Indian state of Uttarakhand, the biggest challenge faced by authorities remains to provide for the victims, especially as more rain is expected.
Ghanshyam Verma, a pilgrim, is desperate and yet resolute as he moves from one devastated village to the other around the temple town of Kedarnath in search of his wife, Shanta and son, Ganesh. He was separated from them on June 16 after the wall surrounding the spiritual hermitage they were staying at was washed away.
Thousands still missing
"I carry this picture of them, hoping someone has seen them. There has been no word of their bodies being discovered so I can't give up hope," Verma told DW. Like him, Pritam Joshi, is holding on to the hope that he will at least find the body of his teenage son, Rajat, who was swept away in a massive cloudburst while seeking shelter in a hillock. "I have lost all hopes of retrieving his body. I could not take the pain anymore and the family conducted a symbolic funeral," the pilgrim said.
Vast swathes of Uttarakhand still remain cut off, but this hasn't kept thousands of people, mostly pilgrims, from continuing the search for family members. Officially, over 3,000 are still missing, but NGOs and rescuers fear the figure could well be over 10,000 if not more.
The real impact of the Himalayan tsunami, as the disaster is referred to, will take many weeks, if not months to assess. The trail of death and destruction wrought by the record-breaking torrential rains is evident. All the tourist towns, the backbone of the state's economy, have been devastated. "Between 13,000 and 14,000 micro industries and business units in these districts have been affected," Pankaj Gupta, president, of the Uttarakhand Industries Association told DW.
According to initial estimates by the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), over 2,000 villages have been damaged, about 1,500 roads washed away and 150 bridges severely damaged. "It could take months before homes and peoples' lives are rebuilt. We are not talking of physical infrastructure. Our biggest worry is there might be more people missing in these floods. Work is still on," NDMA vice-chairman Shashidhar Reddy told DW.
A gloomy future?
Some experts reckon that the disaster in the Himalayan region may have been the result of climate change, worsened by the impact of rampant development projects and unbridled commercialization.
"Despite living in a high-risk zone, builders have not followed building codes, which is very dangerous. It will have a cascading effect in the coming days and we are likely to witness more landslides in the state," V. P. Dimri, former director of the Hyderabad -based National Geophysical Research Institute told DW.
Uttarakhand falls under the high-risk seismic zone and several areas of the region could well be staring at further devastation, he says. Other experts believe that human activities like deforestation and the use of explosives for the construction of tunnels, dams and roads have aggravated the magnitude of lives lost and property damaged.
"Natural disasters have happened here in the past too. Considering it has a fragile ecosystem, we should have been better prepared for such a disaster when we knew there were going to be floods," Santosh Kumar of the National Disaster Management Institute told DW.
Ill-fated residents will have to cope with the aftermath of the disaster and the risk of flash floods for years to come. The biggest challenge faced by the authorities remains to provide for the victims, but this could take longer than expected as more rains are predicted in the coming days.