The Turquoise lake that has terrorized thousands since January 4, 2010 is changing colors, turning muddy. Water inflow of Hunza River has gradually increased, reaching around 2300 Cubic feet per second (Cusec). Average daily water rise level is touching 3 ft and increasing. The lake is around 306 ft deep and almost 15 kilometers long, having swallowed most of Shishkat’s land and now gnawing at the low laying areas of Gulmit. Monstrous indeed!
FWO has been working at the lake barrier by digging a spillway for draining the lake water. Their work has decreased height of the lake barrier relatively, but they are likely to miss the target of 30 meters height reduction. Free board, distance from the current surface of lake to reduced height of the potential spillway, is decreasing everyday due to the surging water level.
Dramatic shifts in the situation can be expected within the next two or three weeks, be it a sudden lake outburst or a gradual spillover.
It is now time to recheck and further enhance the preparedness measures undertaken by the government and other relevant organizations to safeguard life and property in downstream areas.
FOCUS and the district administrations have developed evacuation plans for downstream villages of Hunza – Nagar and Gilgit. Evacuation drills have also been carried out jointly in most vulnerable villages. Sirens have been installed to inform the people about flooding ahead of time. The policemen are equipped with modern communication technologies for giving early warning calls to local populace. Multiple methods of early warning is an appreciable step, indeed.
Police, Rangers, Northern Scouts (paramilitary force) and local volunteers in villages of these two districts are ready, seemingly, to help evacuation of the people as well as maintain law and order during a flood scenario. Most vulnerable villages in Hunza – Nagar and Gilgit districts have been equipped with tents, tarpaulins and blankets, but not sufficiently. Megaphones have also been distributed in some villages to make sure that everyone knows about the looming disaster ahead of time.
The GB government has asked experts to give a suitable date for evacuating households in downstream that are at confirmed risk. The government plans to establish relief camps for the people at risk of displacement due to flooding in the Hunza River, before or after the much awaited spillover. We think remarkable preparedness measures have been undertaken in the two districts of Gilgit – Baltistan.
Having said that no such mechanism seems to be in place for vulnerable communities further downstream. One of the most vulnerable segments of the population at risk comprises of gold gathering gypsies who live at river banks across the Gilgit – Baltistan and Kohistan region. It is hoped that the governments of Khyber – Pukhtunkhuwa and Gilgit – Baltistan will devise strategies to safeguard these marginalized groups and other settled areas while there is still time.
Finally, what needs to be kept in mind is that preparing for the worst is better than waiting for disaster. Many of the measures suggested by experts and implemented or advocated by the government, non – governmental organizations and citizen groups may seem to be ‘unnecessary’ later, but the cost of overdoing is lesser than the cost of destruction that might be unleashed by the water flow.
As they say, disaster preparedness is a shared responsibility. The government of Pakistan, government of Gilgit – Baltistan, district administrations, NGOs, civil society organizations and each and every individual in our society has to play a proactive and constructive role in the weeks and months ahead to save life, property and, hopefully, start journeying towards normalcy, after the lake is no more!