September 4, 2010

Hard winter may play havoc with displaced persons in Gilgit-Baltistan

By Ghulam Rehman

STRANDED: "I saw death from a very close range," says
Hassanullah Baig.—Photo by Karimullah Baig
Structural damages during the monsoon floods in Pakistan have been estimated at $4 billion and wheat crop damages over $500 million while official estimate of the total economic impact is  $43 billion.

Our country needs a huge amount to rehabilitate the 20 million affected people. To get the huge amount is a Herculean task especially when our country's reputation is not good in the global community!

Like other provinces, Gilgit-Baltistan has also been affected by the floods but it is not dominating the media currently. About 180 people were killed and 15,000 were displaced by the recent floods. Major roads, bridges, crops, orchards and a large number of government and private properties have been destroyed in the scattered mountainous region. 

“There is shortage of edible items in the markets,” complained a woman from Ali Abad on the telephone. “Prices are beyond the reach of the poor. The fare of public transports from Hunza to Gilgit city has gone up from Rs150 to Rs500 per passenger. What will we do now?”

Like the Atabad landslide, the floods have also been turned into a manmade disaster due to the inefficiency of the authorities. This has increased the sufferings of the people, and has enraged the new generation that speaks freely whenever it sees any disorder in the society. This has shocked the bureaucrats who rule the region like despot kings since independence (the political setup with a so-called chief minister and governor is just cosmetic).

“The basic infrastructure has been damaged badly in the region,” says a student from Chilas, Diamer district who lives in Rawalpindi. “Roads and bridges are out of order everywhere in Gilgit-Baltistan. There is a famine-like situation in the region but the authorities are doing nothing,” added another student from Skardu. 

In the capital city Gilgit there is shortage of flour, fuel and other daily-use items. “Some profiteers had stocked food items and now they’re selling them at exorbitant rates,” said Syed Iqbal who traveled for 42 hours and changed six vehicles to reach Islamabad from Gilgit. “I waited almost for a week to get flight to Islamabad but failed. The PIA (Pakistan International Airlines) gives preference to military officers and their family members,” he added.

The floods hit Baltistan and Ghizar regions hard. There are some areas, according to locals, where aid has not reached so far.

Over 200 internally displaced persons (IDPs) of Atabad, Hunza, are suffering at Altit village in camp. The locals and some NGOs are providing them foods and cloths while the government is reportedly acting as a silent spectator. The suffering of these helpless people is increasing with the passage of time as a hard winter is approaching fast!

In winter temperature reaches up to minus 10 degree Celsius in the region. “The government should arrange alternate residences for the IDPs. There is greater risk at the camps especially for the elderly and children in the coming cold season,” said an official of an NGO.

A VIEW of the Hunza artificial dam from the
Atabad village.—Photo by Muhammad Ali
The local administration has failed to provide relief to the stranded 25,000 people in Gojal, which has been cut off rest of the country when the landslide blocked the Hunza River and the Karakoram Highway on January 4, 2010.

Six villages have turned into an artificial dam spreading over 40 kilometers of area. The floods further increased the difficulties for people living in Gojal that borders China. Through boats (mostly outdated) people reach Gojal. Recently a man died when he fell into the dam from a boat.

“I saw death from a very close range,” said Hassanullah Baig. He along with other 19 people including foreigners was going to Gulmit, the headquarters of Gojal tehsil when the boat got trapped in the middle of the lake.

“The boat was overloaded. Besides 20 passengers, there were 50 drums of charcoal and luggage of passengers,” said Karimullah Baig, a passenger. “At around 7pm the boat suddenly stopped moving forward. It had been entangled in an inundated power pylon. However, fortunately, we were rescued after four hours."

People of Gojal have demanded of the government to release the dam water without any further delay, "open the land link to the region but before that there should be safe means of travel”.

(The Terrorland Team is deeply indebted to the photo contributors)

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