by Zulfiqar Ali Khan
HUNZA, Feb 28: Parts of a major bridge on the Hunza river on the Karakoram Highway have been submerged by an overflowing lake formed by a landslide on Jan 4.
Sources told this correspondent on Sunday that the bridge, said to be the largest on the highway, had developed cracks and was closed, cutting off Gojal valley from the rest of the country.
Experts are fearing that in the event of the bridge collapsing the land link between Pakistan and China would be snapped because an under-construction alternative bridge would take two years to complete.
The closure of the bridge has left about 3,000 people stranded in Shishkat village which has been turned into an island in the lake.
Water has submerged about 5kms of the Karakoram Highway with another 25kms under threat, the sources said.
This will adversely affect the estimated Rs3 billion annual border trade with China.
Because of the damage to the highway, transportation cost has gone up, leading to a sharp increase in prices of essential goods in the Gojal valley. The cultivation season here starts by the end of March, but lack of supply of basic farming items will have serious implications for the area where over 90 per cent of the households depend on cash crops.
The depth of the artificial lake has reached 198 feet, and a daily water inflow of 250 cusecs increases the level by 1.5 feet a day.
An official of the Frontier Works Organisation said the work to clear the boulders blocking the river was likely to be completed by April 18. He said that 60,000 cubic metres of excavation work had been carried out. But, he added that frequent rains and snowfall were hampering work.
The lake has submerged 11 houses and more than 900 kanals of land and thousands of fruit trees in Ayeenabad and Shishkat Payeen. Another 180 houses and thousands of kanals of land in Shiskat, Gulmit, Ghulkin and Hussaini villages are facing a similar threat. DAWN