As the world grapples with the coronavirus pandemic, Jammu and Kashmir is reeling under yet another lockdown; this time to curb the spread of the virus.
With a severe shortage of emergency supplies like hand sanitisers, face masks, and Personal Protection Equipment (PPE), many, especially the front-line workers, are risking their lives.
However, since the last two weeks, ELFA International, a Srinagar-based NGO has been lending a helping hand to both the frontline workers and the needy to ensure their safety amid this crisis.
"We mostly work in Jammu and Kashmir on education, livelihood, youth and women-related issues. After the coronavirus outbreak, we launched our emergency response," Mehran Khan, the Chief Executive(CEO) of ELFA International, tells The Logical Indian.
"My team and I are reaching out to the health centres and trying to ensure that the frontline workers - health workers and police officials - are safe and they have all the essentials they need to protect themselves from getting infected," he adds.
Working hand in hand with the district administration, Department of Health, and Srinagar Municipal Corporation, Khan's five-member team has distributed over 10,000 - 15,000 hand sanitizers, face masks, PPEs, and hand gloves to the frontline workers and the needy. They have also distributed sanitary napkins to women at various quarantine facilities set up by the government.
"I am planning to help more families because there are many families who do not have money or the means to procure supplies for their families," says Khan.
Ever since the coronavirus outbreak, there has been a severe shortage of masks and PPEs across the country. While Khan was in touch with various vendors outside J&K, no one could deliver the supplies. Faced with the dilemma, Khan was quick to find a solution.
"I went the innovative way and immediately employed local tailors to stitch some masks. I showed some samples to doctors and health officials and got it approved. Then I got these made in bulk. Now I have employed a lot of local tailors, including women, to make masks. This is how we are managing locally at the moment because there is no way to get it from outside," explains Khan.
For sanitisers, although difficult, Khan managed to get around 3000-4000 hand sanitisers from local medical agencies. These, he is distributing to various district hospitals in Srinagar, Baramulla, Pulwama, Ganderbal and Kupwara.
While on distribution drives, Khan gives utmost priority to his team's security.
"We wear our PPE when moving around to ensure that we are safe. We go to different hospitals, different facilities. So, I am ensuring the safety of my team and myself as well," says Khan.
ELFA International's emergency response has been lauded by many authorities including the Mayor of Srinagar city, DC Srinagar and Srinagar District Administration.
Several NGOs and Units in collaboration with Srinagar Administration have started delivering PPE kits, Masks and other items. EHSAAS and ELFA Intl among prominent partners delivered 10,000 units. All hospitals/quatantine centres to get PPEs.— Srinagar district administration (@srinagaradmin) March 28, 2020
"They've been doing commendable philanthropic work in this situation," tweeted the Mayor of Srinagar.
Gratitude to Mehran and his team from @ELFAintl for donating 500 washable, 3 layered masks for SMC workers/field associates in addition to some hand sanitizers to be used by them! They've been doing commendable philanthropic work in this situation. Thank You! #Srinagar #Covid19 pic.twitter.com/2QEHFfaapw— Mayor of Srinagar #StayHomeSaveLives (@MayorofS) March 27, 2020
"There's a lot to do in this crisis-like situation," says Khan.
Challenges For J&K Under Yet Another Lockdown
Jammu and Kashmir was only getting back up from a seven-month lockdown following the abrogation of Article 370 on August 5, 2019, when the coronavirus lockdown came into place. Many, especially the economically weaker sections are now struggling to make ends meet.
"We had this prolonged shutdown and there were a lot of poor people who were already suffering. Things were getting a little better, but, then this lockdown happened," says Khan.
"Irrespective of class, big and small businesses or the rich and poor - everybody was affected in the lockdown. But, some people can survive for a longer time, but some can't. And these people, especially the rickshaw pullers and transporters, were badly hit. Kashmir is mainly dependent on handicraft, tourism, and agriculture. As these are severely affected, everybody is suffering. So, now, there are many families who do not have resources to even buy ration. A lot of families are contacting us for ration and for support for medication," explains Khan.
The lockdown in August also witnessed a complete communications blackout with landlines, mobile connections, and internet connections shutdown. While the internet has been restored in J&K, only 2G mobile internet is available, which drastically affects the residents' access to information online.
"Situation is kind of grim here. There's a lot of information being shared on social networks and through Whatsapp. But, the problem is, if I get a video related to corona, it takes ages to download as we still have 2G speed, which is technically nothing. If you send me a 1-minute video, it will take forever to download. We are requesting authorities to restore 4G - at least at this moment they should," says Khan.
The low number of healthcare facilities is also a challengee the people are facing.
According to The Ministry Of Health and Family Welfare, Jammu and Kashmir has reported 55 cases of coronavirus, as of Wednesday, April 1. While two people have recovered, two died.Also Read: Coronavirus Outbreak: Kerala MLA, Collector Trek 3 Kms With Supplies To Help 37 Tribal Families