In Indian-administered Kashmir, heavy monsoon rains led to surging floodwaters and the deaths of at least 175 people. Across the disputed border in Pakistani-administered Kashmir, the floods have claimed more than 60 lives, in addition to 131 in Punjab province. It is the mountainous region's worst flooding in six decades, submerging hundreds of villages and prompting a crisis that has led to a brief thaw in ties between two bickering foes.
"It is a matter of great distress that the retreating monsoon rains have played havoc in many parts of our two countries," Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said in a letter to his Pakistani counterpart, Nawaz Sharif. "In this hour of need, I offer any assistance that you may need in the relief efforts that will be undertaken by the government of Pakistan. Our resources are at your disposal."
Pakistan's Foreign Ministry responded in kind: "We also feel the pain of the people of Indian Kashmir and are ready to help in whatever way possible to mitigate the suffering of the people affected by the floods."
Despite these friendly noises, it's unlikely that either country will do much to collaborate in the relief effort. Since independence and partition in 1947, the two countries have fought repeatedly along the de facto boundary separating Indian- and Pakistani-controlled Kashmir. It is one of the most heavily militarized borders in the world.
In the past month, tensions have spiked after new rounds of border fire and disagreements that led India to pull out of high-level bilateral talks.
Pakistan's former ambassador to the United States offered this sober tweet:
Disasters recognize no boundaries :Monsoon rains kill over 128 in Pakistan,108 in India -Heavy floods have ... http://t.co/6OeOIqx03B”— sherryrehman (@sherryrehman) September 7, 2014
Both countries' armies have rushed to rescue those stranded. Although rain slackened over the weekend, thousands of people remain trapped in their homes, and there was initial anger at the lack of warning and government preparedness for the floods, which have become an annual phenomenon. Modi flew to Kashmir on Sunday and promised about $200 million in relief efforts and compensation for the flood victims.
On social media, the hashtag #KashmirFloods trended in both countries. Many issued distress calls on Twitter, either seeking relatives and loved ones who were missing or alerting others to their plight. Netizens even attempted to map those in need of aid in Srinagar, the picturesque capital of Indian Kashmir, whose streets turned into canals over the weekend.
The Indian army tweeted an image of one of its cantonments near Srinagar, completely inundated. But it hailed its continuing efforts:
Behind the crisis is the larger reality of climate change, writes Indian environmentalist Sunita Narain. Both India and Pakistan are struggling with inadequate infrastructure to deal with such natural disasters. That has been compounded by a monsoon that each year grows more unpredictable and delivers more and more rain. "This makes for a double whammy," Narain writes. "On the one hand, we are mismanaging our water resources, intensifying floods and droughts. On the other hand, climate change is beginning to make the country even more vulnerable, because of the increased frequency of extreme weather events."