Phone, internet shutdown hits Covid19 fight in Kashmir

For last two weeks, residence of businessman Ubaid Wani at uptown Hyderpora was buzzing with activity as volunteers packed food kits for the needy every day. Voluntary work of Wani’s NGO ‘Humanix’ has come to standstill since Wednesday after authorities shut down network of all private mobile operators and the internet across Kashmir.

“With no mobile connectivity it is impossible for our fieldvolunteers to leave for distribution,” says Wani. “It is logistically notpossible to make food deliveries as locating addresses of beneficiaries withoutmaking phone calls is difficult. We are waiting for mobile service to restoreso that we can resume distribution,” says Wani.

In absence of mobile and internet connectivity activities of NGO ‘Athrout’ have also been hampered, says its Chairman Bashir Nadvi. He says Athrout used to receive hundreds of phone calls every day from people in need which have drastically reduced due to mobile service suspension. “People in need of essentials used to reach out to us on our helplines which have turned defunct. We used to make phone calls to our existing 750 beneficiaries for conveying them about timings to pick up their quota of essentials. But suspension of mobile networks has disturbed this entire process,” says Nadvi.

Nadvi says the free of cost ambulance and ‘Doc on Call’service offered by the NGO have also been affected in absence of mobilenetwork. “Doc on Call” telemedicine service, through which we used to connecthundreds of people with leading doctors has been turned defunct. We also have apsychiatric helpline offering support to people suffering from mentaldisorders. Even this helpline is non-functional due to the gag,” Nadvi said.

Nadvi said ten different NGOs from Srinagar had joined handsto form an online platform Yakjut, activities of which has also been hit. “Thisplatform was quite helpful as it ensured that support reaches out to almosteveryone in need. It also helped keep a check on duplicity of work but today wehave not been able to coordinate with each other,” said Nadvi.

Dozens of NGOs across the Valley have played an importantrole during the lockdown owing to Covid19 distributing thousands of food kitsto needy, protective face-masks and PPE kits among medical teams. Besides, someNGOs have carried out extensive fumigation and many of them have donatedlogistics and medical equipment to government in the fight against Covid19.

Muhammad Shafi Qureshi, founder of Spring Buds EducationalTrust Budgam, which has been doing social work in far-flung villages of thedistrict, says the mobile service suspension has hit them hard.

“We used to make home deliveries by calling people but todaydozens of needy persons from nearby villages had to walk several kilometres inorder to collect relief kits,” says Qureshi. “We urge authorities to restoremobile and internet services soon,” Qureshi said.

An official who is coordinating as the government-appointednodal officer with 97 NGOs across the Valley said voluntary organisations”should not get disappointed” and continue their noble work. “We are in touchwith the NGOs and encouraging them to keep preparing the food kits, PPEs etc.till the time mobile network is restored,” the official said. He said the NGOcoordination cell formed by the divisional administration is ready to extendany sort of logistical support to the voluntary organisations who seek help.

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