[Opinion] Hunza’s Water bomb!

M. Ismail Khan

Over four months of labour, the use of heavy excavating machinery and bulldozers and the assistance of Chinese engineers working on widening the KKH to build a spillway through the wall of boulder and mud stretching nearly three kilometres has brought partial success for the Frontier Works Organisation (FWO). But even before the FWO has been able to dig down to the water level, the latter is rising to the level of the FWO cranes. The water build-up is becoming more rapid with rising temperatures and snowmelt.

The emergence of the new lake has received a mixed response across the country. Despite its dangerous implications, it is seen by some as a naturally formed dam, a gift from God, to a people who have failed to build one in decades. Even many local tour operators were excited at the prospect of a new lake being added to the list of Hunza’s tourist attractions — until an increasing number of geologists started waving red flags.

The Wakhi-speaking people of Gojal, who have been virtually cut off from the rest of Pakistan for the last four months, have for years shared their pastures, the silk route (KKH) and their belief in Ismaili Islam with the more visible Broshuski-speaking people of lower Hunza. Today, they share a calamity. For the first time there is no road connection between them and the poverty-stricken people are being fleeced by boatmen taking advantage of their despair.

The people in Gojal and Hunza are lucky to have the world’s leading philanthropist Prince Karim Aga Khan as their spiritual leader. In dealing with this tragedy, the institutions of the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN) including FOCUS Pakistan teamed up with government agencies and the army, just as they did during the 2005 earthquake, to rush relief goods and services to people living in the affected sites.

AKDN may be good at helping the people but it can’t really build a spillway over a major river blockage. It is essentially the federal government’s job to do so. Meeting this challenge is beyond the capacity of NGOs or the nascent political set-up of Gilgit-Baltistan. Clearly, the federal government needs to do a lot more to prevent disaster. In view of the nature of the crisis, it could seek technical help from friendly countries and send out emergency alerts to international agencies that are equipped to handle the situation.

The authorities need to focus on stabilising the debris, expediting work on spillways and also minimising potential risks downstream. Round-the-clock monitoring and a foolproof early warning mechanism are needed. Since the army has always played a dominant role in disaster management, it should monitor inter-agency coordination and supervise the functioning of all agencies. In the meantime, the Gilgit-Baltistan government in coordination with the federal authorities should continue to help out displaced villagers by providing them with shelter, food and medicines besides ensuring that their children continue to receive schooling. They should immediately embark on identifying suitable land to relocate the affected people and draw plans to rebuild the necessary infrastructure and restore lost livelihood opportunities.

Complete at DAWN

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  1. Nice efforts by writer, but it is more important that before write any thing we shoud have the proper information about the relative topic. After the land slide the most affected village is Shishkat as respect to economically, if we called it a island of Gilgit-Baltistan so it is not wrong, in Shishkat more than 105 houses are totally destroyed.More than 80% people native language is Burushaski. Now the flow of water also enter in the commercial area of Gulmit, my point of view is this that in Gojal their is no only wakhi spoken people are suffered but the whole people of Gojal are suffering from this devastation of Attabad land slide inculding (Burushaski, Wakhi and Domaki) and the most destroyed village is Shishkat, it is my request to writers is that please come forward with new articles having new and proper information.

  2. We are grateful to Mr. Ismail Khan for reflection the grave situation of the Attaabad landslide and its potential implications.



  4. Referring to your theory,,,”Despite its dangerous implications, it is seen by some as a naturally formed dam, a gift from God, to a people who have failed to build one in decades.”,,,,, Let me tell you something Ismail, it will never work as a dam, rather it’s simply an icon of catastrophe for the people of HUNZA. Natural dams must be composed of hard strata with firm embankments without any seepage across the stuff, while here the case is absolutely reverse. The building of dam needs certain specific calculations, feasibility, design, historical data and other parameters, which are nowhere, exist.
    Indeed, FOCUS Pakistan did its job well, but it was Govt. of Pak, who failed in analyzing / forecasting and planning at its initial stages.

  5. Heaven on earth is drowning and I’m shocked to see the slow rate of Governments response. why the Government of Pakistan and local authorities waited so long for the monstrous lake to grow bigger and bigger. I humbly request the local authorities to come forward and do something serious other wise this monster will eat up the happiness of inhabitants of Hunza & surroundings.
    Amna Zamir, University of Leicester. UK

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