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 field volunteers to leave for distribution,” says Wani. “It is logistically not possible to make food deliveries as locating addresses of beneficiaries without making phone calls is difficult. We are waiting for mobile service to restore so 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 mobile network. “Doc on Call” telemedicine service, through which we used to connect hundreds of people with leading doctors has been turned defunct. We also have a psychiatric helpline offering support to people suffering from mental disorders. Even this helpline is non-functional due to the gag,” Nadvi said.

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

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

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

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

An official who is coordinating as the government-appointed nodal officer with 97 NGOs across the Valley said voluntary organisations “should not get disappointed” and continue their noble work. “We are in touch with 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 NGO coordination cell formed by the divisional administration is ready to extend any sort of logistical support to the voluntary organisations who seek help.