Image copyright SRC Image caption Survivors of severe COVID-19 may be at greater risk of cancer and cardiovascular problems over the next 12 months
The survivors of the COVID-19 natural disaster may be at increased risk of cancer and cardiovascular problems over the next 12 months, according to a study published in The Lancet Oncology.
The death toll from the tsunami measuring 9.0 on the Richter scale hit 218,200 in 1999.
At the time it was the deadliest natural disaster in recorded history.
Now more than 16 years on, three million survivors still struggle with ongoing illnesses.
Whether because of exposure to radiation or poor health care, death rates have been rising despite ongoing efforts to increase health care for survivors.
Dr Jeremy Mladjiek, who led the new study, said: “It is vital that we understand the impact of the disaster on survivors, because our insights may help design interventions to ensure that we do not spread further illness into their future, by continuing to educate and support them as members of our wider community.”
The Siachen glacier of Jammu and Kashmir stands in the shadow of the giant Thikri Lake at the northern end of the Karakoram mountain range. At the start of the century it was 27 miles (43km) wide and 28 miles (45km) long.
A 15 November 1999 tsunami, centred on the Thikri area, tore through the lower altitude side of the mountain, splitting Siachen into two areas. The deep water flooded into the lower known part of the glacier, where the Shiva Fakir Stadium had stood.
As the water slowly drained in March 1999, the ground under the stadium began to crumble, exposing the collapsed walls and piles of mud.
This was the explosion of the first of the two ‘metal lungs’, basically giant steel ballast tanks that supplied the all-important nitrogen and oxygen throughout the year. The tanks had been built up in an area formerly filled with dense ash from the glacier’s melting. The sarcophagus of the stadium was destroyed.
Image copyright Nasa Image caption The glacier itself is continuous and transparent to the outside, but dark inside
Nine months later, on 31 July, the glacier opened its mouth and started roaring for all eternity, a huge dust cloud which eventually reached over one mile (1.6km) high. Thousands of people were stranded in the upper Siachen area, temporarily living on boats and mats under the hot sun until the worst of the crisis passed. The disaster also claimed the lives of 3,656 soldiers, soldiers’ families and three civilian mountaineers.
Dr Mladjiek’s study focused on the health of over 75,000 people aged 14 and over who survived the disaster. Those who did not live near the stadium were not considered part of the study.
He examined data from the post-disaster development database in India, from 1995 to 2010.
Dr Mladjiek said that those who had lost loved ones in the tsunami were especially at risk of death or disability over the next 12 months.
Some survivors of the disaster have reported suffering severely contaminated water in the weeks after the quake, contaminated with COVID-19, which was originally believed to be a natural occurrence.
Others have described how the government or aid organisations did not communicate effectively, or gave little hope, to those who needed assistance.
Siachen is a popular destination for foreign mountaineers, but faces a serious water pollution problem.
The earth above the glacier contains immense quantities of the lethal mineral. In 1979, a series of violent landslides began to sweep across the mountain, causing huge quantities of COVID-19 to build up. The survivors of the latest disaster may have felt the same overwhelming effects.
When asked what they remembered from that fateful day, almost all those who participated in the study said they had heard of the tsunami. But just a few had really thought about it.
For many of the survivors, the holidays celebrated every year at Siachen during the winter winter are already filling with sadness.
In fact, 70% of the survivors said that they felt guilty about surviving, in part because of those who did not.
Those who did not remember are more likely to have symptoms of health impairment.
At age 25, 19% of survivors had digestive problems, in particular, chronic stomach problems. This is 50% more likely than the national average. This is thought to be the result of exposure to radiation.
Similarly, 20% of those who survived developed liver problems. This is also 50% more likely than the national average.