Gojal clamours for urgent attention

by Zulfiqar Ali Khan

A month has already passed since the devastating landslide of Atabad Hunza. KKH, the lifeline of communication between Pakistan and China lies blocked. This situation coupled with the already poor communication infrastructure in Gojal area has increased the miseries and danger to the lives of the 25,000 inhabitants of the area.

The experts monitoring the water level in the lake formed as a result of the landslide estimate the water inflow in the lake at 200 to 250 cubic foot per second. This is raising the level of the lake by an average of 2.6 feet per day. Presently the lake stretches to about 11 km towards Gulmit and it is estimated to further increase to about 25-30 kilometres towards Hussaini village.

The water has already inundated 900 kanals of land and thousands of orchards in Ayeenabad and Shishkat Payeen (lower), besides submerging 11 houses while others are watching haplessly and waiting to see when their houses go under water that has also damaged the electricity and telephone infrastructure. According to experts, the height of the potential spillways point is still 79 meters from the present water level in the artificial lake.

The Frontier Works Organisation is working as the coordinating agency of Army on the excavation of the spillway. The Rs54 million project was started on Jan 29 after completing a 600 meters approach road, eleven days after the disaster.

The authorities have given March 15 as deadline for the release of the water. The slush debris is hindering the pace of work. Presently about 60 workers with four excavators, four bulldozers and one compressor are engaged in the work on the site.

According to FWO about 13,952 cubic meters of the total 112,500 cubic meter (13 per cent) debris from the spillway had been excavated till Thursday.

The local people are, however, dissatisfied with the pace of work and demand deployment of more machinery to ensure immediate release of water to save the settlement in Gojal.

According to experts, the lake could submerge about 14,800 kanal of mostly cultivable land in Ayeenabad, Shishkat and Gulmit -3,000 kanal in Ayeenabad, 7,000 kanal in Shishkat, 3,000 kanal in Shishkat Payeen and 1,800 in Gulmit. The estimate further reveals that the lake could submerge 187 houses displacing 1,736 people — 32 houses in Ayeenabad, 157 in Shishkat centre and payeen and 10 in Gulmit.

The lake has already submerged 3.5km of KKH and could submerge about 25km of KKH from the blockade area to Hussaini village. Experts predict that the water could submerge the main bridge on KKH between Gulmit and Shishkat village within 15-20 days. This will cut off the more than 3,000 population of Shishkat village from the rest of the world.

The authorities are not ruling out the possibility of sudden bursting of the lake which could devastate the settlements downstream in Hunza-Nagar and Gilgit district. According to some reports, if this happens it would not only wash the settlements along the river but also damage KKH, bridges and other installations.

The district administration and Focus, an NGO, has established early warning system for the communities living in low-lying areas downstream. A similar blockade of the river near the present site in 1858 not only submerged the low-lying areas upstream but also washed areas up to Attock drowning about 1,500 Sikh soldiers.

Meanwhile, the eleven families of Ayeenabad who have lost their houses and properties in the lake are still unattended and the government has not yet registered them as IDPs. The people are living with host families without any proper relief. With the passage of time the number of displaced people will increase adding to the problems for the authorities.

An initial survey of FOCUS identifies three more potential disaster areas in Hunza-Nagar. NDMA should expedite efforts for a complete geological survey of whole GilgitBaltistan and plan accordingly.

Proper communication infrastructure like online banking facilities and internet service should be extended to Gojal in order to ensure proper communication disaster situation. DAWN

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  1. Thanks again for your timely and well-informed report. A few additional remarks:

    As you note, the 1858 flood wave was still massive at Attock. In fact it sent a reverse wave up the Kabul River about 50km. Reports after 1858 suggest the flood wave reached 10-20m above high summer flows along the Giigit and Indus, and caused erosion of river terraces “100s of feet’ back from the channel. The most likely severe impacts of a sudden breaching of the landslide dam would be damages down stream along the Hunza. However, if there is any doubt about the stability of the dam, nowhere within this envelop — say, 24 m above high summer river levels, and 100m from terrace edges, should be considered safe. Likewise any parts fo the KKH, bridges and other infrastructure in the same envelop. And this applies at least to Tarbela Dam.

    As a possible ‘worst case’ model for an Attabad dam failure, the 1858 indicates the possibility of damage at least that far. It would require careful planning to minimise impacts at Tarbela dam itself and to avoid sudden release of water to cope with the flood. Populations there should be briefed to make preparation, and an emergency warning system put in place in the event of a collapse.

    I should just add that the 1858 flood was not responsible for the deaths in the Sikh army. That occurred in was the largest known historical flood on the Upper Indus from the 1841 landslide dam off the Lichar spur of Nanga Parbat. However, it may have been a closer parallel to the present landsldie than that of 1858 which was not described as involving a massive rock slope failure such as the main Attabad mass seems to do. The Lichar landsldie lasted from january until June creating a lake some say reached back to Gilgit (unlikely) but failed in 24 hours. It was a much larger flood wave at Attock than 1858.

    It is difficult to say how far those dams and the conditions creating the landslides resemble toe present case, but often historical precedents are more helpful than speculation with no clear guidelines. Of course, there are a number of models that could be used to investigate the possible consequences of various dam breaching scenarios, and it would seem wise to make use of them in good time.

    Our hearts go out to those suffering so much already from these events, the snow and cold and uncertainty of supplies.

    Best wishes

    Kenneth Hewitt

  2. Thank you for update brother:
    The situation is quite serious and needs urgent attention of NDMA. More equipment needs to be deployed on site to breach the dam blocking Hunza River.Please NDMA do some thing urgently.Where is G-B disaster authority???.

    Creeping damage is being caused upstream as fertile land is being flooded and infrastructure is being destroyed/damaged.In about 10 days,Shiskat-Gulmit bridge which is a large bridge will submerge.Does any one realiseing the cost of new bridge and time it will take to make new one.. KKH is blocked and Pakistan is cur off from our very close friend country China.

    There will be big food shortage in comming days,weeks and downstream harvesting cannot happen due to low and NO water.

    Thank you very much FOCUS for wonderful work that you our doing.FOCUS volunteers are very helpful and kind.May Allah bless them.

  3. thank you so much for your information but it needs to give serious attention on the current satitution. specally the most senior officers who are working in the government sector they should contect high officals of the government to solve this problem as soon as possible.

  4. Dear

    Can any body tell us where is CM. I think it is his duty to be in gilgit to solve the problems of public. But it seems that he has not interest with the region.

  5. Yes… ……..The CM must be preparing his resignation paper……………of course ethically it is the responsibility of any elected democratic government in the world to serve their people meet their expectations………..if not they should resign………. accept their failures……….. otherwise there will be long term consequences………..

    Please you all make it sure…………..

  6. Thanks, Zulfi for your detail narration of the situation and the possible threats to further settlements upstream Hunza river.

    The authorities handling the situation at present seem wasting the time which could result in catastrophe in either of the cases, (the dam breaches or not). The accounts given by experts like Kenneth, Hewitt and others have clearly pointed towards the possible outcomes in case of breach of this dam to the infrastructure downstream. Even it is a possible threat to the largest earth-filled dam (Tarbela).

    This should be an eye-opener for the authorities in Islamabad if God forbids, something bad happens to Tarbela due to sudden breach of Attabad artificial dam, can Pakistan afford the disastrous outcome??????

    It is high time that immediate serious and concrete steps be taken to safe management of this precious water turning it into blessing otherwise if mismanaged could destroy everything all the way down to the plans of Punjab and Sindh.

    I would suggest that help may be sought from neighboring China to manage this situation because it is really a race against time and our country is at stake, not only the population of Gojal in the Hunza-Nagar district of Gilgit Baltistan.

    May Allah be with us in these difficult time

    Sher Karim

  7. Thanks for the updateds…
    As concern the work in process no one is satisfy with FWO, everyone is aware about the history of performance of their work, the work at the site already started late and it has given a dummy organization is a very serious issue, nobody realised how the people are suffering, where houses and properties are submerging in water, gvt sould play thier role and take it serious.

  8. As we all knw da alarming situation of gojal, itz jst not threat 4 gojal only, we all northern area people are dealing wid very devastating situation. we guys need 2 unite ourselves n pray 4 its rehabilitation.

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