The newly elected government of Gilgit-Baltistan may never have imagined that its first year would be spent in fighting two of the region’s worst natural calamities.
Over 20,000 people evacuated from vulnerable villages downstream of the dammed Hunza lake were still in relief camps when the worst flood disaster struck all seven districts of Gilgit-Baltistan. According to Gilgit-Baltistan Disaster Management Authority a total of 347 villages were affected due to the rains and floods, including 71villages in Diamer District where 103 casualties also took place. The total death toll in Gilgit-Baltistan is 183, as reported by GBDMA.
The total number of houses damaged in Gilgit-Baltistan has been reported at 2,830 by the regional authority. A total of 86,000 people were affected including over 9,500 in Diamer District alone due to destruction of 953 houses.
Around 947 kilometres of paved and unpaved roads have been left in shambles, 182 bridges destroyed and several hydel power stations destroyed, plunging a major part of the region into darkness.
Skardu and Ghanche were the second worst hit districts in terms of loss of life, with 56 casualties, mostly in Qumrah and Talis villages which were washed away by flash floods while the people were asleep. Ghizer was the third worst hit district in terms of inundation of cropped fields, destruction of houses and damages to infrastructure.
Gilgit-Baltistan needs enormous rebuilding before temperature drops below the freezing point. The federal government is strapped for cash. The governments of China and USA have sent relief goods but a long term strategy for the entire region seems to be missing at the moment. The Gilgit-Baltistan government has expressed its inability to cope with the disaster. The chief minister has demanded Rs12 billion from Islamabad. But his cabinet does not seem to understand. A senior minister has spent millions of rupees on self glorifying advertisements during the Independence Day celebrations.
The government of Gilgit-Baltistan has several options available that can be exploited to generate resources for normalization of life in the region. The biggest resource is the highly mobilised and motivated development-oriented communities of Gilgit-Baltistan. They only need expert help and some funds which can be obtained from the amount requested from the federal government, supplemented by contributions from international governments and NGOs. The website of Gilgit-Baltistan government may be used for collecting donations from the world over and GB’s own expatriate community.
The Gilgit-Baltistan Council needs to be made functional on priority basis. The onus of initiating and harmonising the joint relief and rehabilitation efforts and maintenance of law and order rests on the shoulder of the Governor and Chief Minister. They can lead the region towards hope with wise, effective and visionary leadership.