Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Gilgit Baltistan : The disaster ahead

The latest update of today tells that Ata Abad’s devil lake in Hunza has risen more than 320 feet high and 18 kms upstream with an approximate volume of 1.2 million acre feet water. There is about 45 feet height left or overtopping of water. FWO has excavated only about 43 feet deep spillway in four months period. Initially in winter season water was rising at the rate of 1.4 feet per day which has now risen to 4.5 – 5 feet per day. Every day water intake is increasing. 20 kms of KKH along with its longest bridge have already submerged. After submerging the village of Ayeenabad, Shishkat village’s lower half has also drowned in water. The rest of the village is cut off from both sides with only access by boat. Dam has now hit Gulmit, Ghulkin and Hussani villages’ low laying areas. In the next few days Gulmit bazaar’s 120 shops, 38 houses, one community centre, thousands of kanals of lands and domesticated plants along with 5 kilometer of the
strategic Karakoram Highway and 3 bridges, the largest hotel (Silk Route Lodge) will be under water. This will cut KKH at the point Ghulkin Glacier snout disconnecting Gulmit and Ghulkin villages from rest of the world as these villages are already disconnected from downstream.

Now the situation has come to the alarming point where sudden outburst of dam within days is immanent and the entire downstream valley as long as Tarbela is at the verge of flood causing losses of billions of rupees. Karakorum Highway the only lifeline is facing numerous massive washouts and bridge collapses and will remain so for months if not years. The magnitude of the disaster can be imagined from the reportedly expected height of the torrent tide that may be somewhere between 100 and 300 feet high.

According to the experts’ reports, the torrent may directly destroy 36 villages displacing some 20000 people. Houses, hard worked terraced fields, orchards, whitewood plantation and standing crops will be smashed to debris in these villages. The extent of affect is entire Gilgit Baltistan and Kohistan on Indus River. Ahmad abad will be the first village to be hit by flood. Water will overtop and break down eight bridges on KKH besides many other bridges linking other valleys and villages with KKH. It will damage Karakorum University campus. Flood will block Gilgit River for about 14 hours. As a result, water will enter Chinar Bagh assembly hall.

As far as the state of crisis management on the part of government is concerned, it has completely failed to discharge its duty as trustee/caretaker of the disputed region. This failure and criminal negligence is either intentional or is the result of typical incompetence and corruption of the Pakistani authorities.

It was possible to avoid damming up by pumping out water over the debris by installation of heavy pumps. But it was termed ‘not feasible’ by NDMA/FWO authorities. This simple technique would have;
(a) avoided water rising and
(b) removed blockade/debris through continuous erosion and river bed would have been quite low.

It is worth noting that in winter season water flow was very low in Hunza River and it could have easily been pumped out. If a mega city like Karachi can be supplied hundreds of millions of gallon by pumping why was it not possible for Hunza? Large scale pumps or boring rugs should have been installed within days after the disaster. On the other hand, China had offered to remove the blockade in twenty days which was turned down and the contract was assigned to FWO.

Until 10th May 2010, the local puppet government was stressing that there is no risk of outburst and flooding, and that PPP’s opponents are creating unnecessary hue and cry. Suddenly the Chief Minister took a U turn and came to media with reports of increasing threat. Simultaneously, local administration declared that 36 villages are at risk and that the flood would displace 20,000 people.

Foreseeing this disastrous outbreak much earlier, local people in Hunza had been demanding that fuel, ration and other essential commodities should be stocked in each village/town of Hunza-Nagar and Gilgit. Similarly local population has been demanding for timely delivery of required material of temporary steel bridges on sites of endangered bridges so that such alternate bridges could be built and line of communication should be restored without wasting time.

Such reasonable demands were ignored as ‘false propaganda of political opponents’. Now the same puppet Chief Minister and Speaker are crying after wasting the high time of emergency planning and preparation. But since there is no real role and powers resting with the so called local government, its not worth being discussed. The only role it plays is to act in the puppet stage show and hoodwink the local population as well as international community. It is now clear that the seems that the Government of Pakistan has planned to destroy the entire valley and take advantage of the calamity to beg from the world in the name of assistance.

The entire Gilgit Baltistan will face food, fuel and essential items’ shortage for at least months. Since there is no strategic stocking arrangement, there will be famine. Prices of available commodities will rocket soon. Since local agricultural products are mainly cash crops, local farmers grow wheat and other grain in very small quantities. Airlifting of all these commodities, even if arranged, is not possible for the two million populations. How an administration that has failed to provide food to the 25000 people of Gojal Hunza for four months can supply these commodities for entire Gilgit Baltistan.

The fragile mountain environment has considerably changes due to the presence of huge water body among some of the largest glaciers of the world. Unusual raining is a continued phenomenon since February this year. Large water body is source for evaporation, raining and rapid glacier melting. The sudden increase of the Hunza River upstream which has caused panic of dam outburst is the result of this deposition. This experience is also a signal against proposed construction of large dams in the region.

It is beyond one’s understanding that the story of falling down of Ata Abad village on 4th January 2010 was reported in print and electronic media as land sliding which is a route phenomenon in mountainous terrain. The real story is still being camouflaged. It was not a simple land slide but a massive eruption of a village standing on a high seemingly rugged mountain well above the Hunza River. The villagers were witnessing widening cracks and emission of heat (some hot gases?) since 2002 which they had repeatedly reported to local authorities with the request to take timely measures. No reasonable action was witnessed in the long seven years period. Surveys and evacuation reversal activities carried out by a NGO Focus Humanitarian Assistance was an exception. It was in the fitness of things to carry a thorough geological survey so that the nature and magnitude of mountain eruption should have been gauged and losses of 19 precious lives would have been
averted. If satellite surveys can identify and locate huge mineral deposits buried deep in the earth, why could that technology not be used in this case. The eruption was so powerful that the major chunk of blown landmass stroke the opposite mountain across the river and cause Hunza river to turn into the devil dam. No one knows the cause of eruption and the fate of adjacent villages that face threat of the next bow up.

It is most heartening for the local populace that the Pakistan’s print and electronic media find it no sensational to cover and to sensitize the public opinion. Those who rightly championed rule of law and independence of judiciary did not find time from opening of Burjul Khalifa and Sania-Shoaib hypes. The negligence has been so frustrating that the cable operators lodged protest by staging a token blackout of Pakistani news channels all over Gilgit Baltistan. Rare news reports were an exception. It is only after threat declaration from administration that the visible near future disaster is in the headlines.

The plight of the so far victims of disaster, such as residents of the lost village of Ata Abad and the submerged villages of Ayeenabad and Shishkat are listening only false promises. Except for the payment of death compensations of 19 villagers, and of late provision of ration to Ata Abad IDPs, no plan for their rehabilitation and settlement has been announced. They are left to see their hand made oasis cracking and sinking in the devil dam. After months of demands and protests, the government announced declaring Ata Abad and Gojal Hunza ‘calamity hit area’. Although its written notification has come after many weeks but so far no relief has reached to the calamity hit people that could prove its practical implementation. NDMA had been giving different dates for opening of dam at different times, lastly declined to identify any date calling it a “tricky question’. The conflicting statements of various government agencies about dam’s opening
and its impact downstream, is ample proof of its inability and negligence. Even the National Assembly’s recommendation to take Chinese help in January has been dishonoured. Divergent opinions of NDMA and the Ministry of Environment, is yet another example of this situation.

It is now beyond any doubt that Pakistani agencies have failed to rise to the challenge despite sub achha hay reports and they lack the necessary resources and expertise to smoothly manage the emergent disastrous situation. Therefore, the international community should immediately come forward to the rescue of the unfortunate and unrepresented region.


By
Sultan Madad
Member Execative Council
Gilgit Baltistan Democratic Alliance