By Ahmed Jami Sakhi
The Hunza valley is considered to be a model peaceful society in terms of its educational and socio-economic development not only in Gilgit-Baltistan but also in rest of the country. The disaster that occurred on 4th January 2010 at Atta Abad was so big in magnitude that it adversely affected the socio-economic, educational, and communication infrastructure of the whole valley, disconnecting it from rest of the world.
Nineteen precious lives were lost during the landslide disaster, while one precious life was lost few months later as a result of rock fall from the shaky mountain. The victim was a volunteer trying to supply essential food items by boats to help his brothers and sisters in the upper valleys, beyond Attabad.
The disaster blocked the Karakuram Highway, which is the backbone of land route trade between China and Pakistan, affecting hundreds of native traders. The economists have estimated the losses in billions of US dollars. The huge debris as a result of mountain sliding, obstructed the flow of Hunza River and formed an artificial lake of more than 25 kms length, touching the tail of village Passu during the summer of 2010, when melting in most of the glaciers was at its peak and water flow from different tributary Nullahs had also increased to the maximum level.
The length of the barrier was 300 meters, width 550 meters and height 135 meters at the blockage point. However, the Pakistan Army was able to construct a spillway by the end of May 2010. But it did not help much, as the inflow of water from different tributary sources was much higher than the out flow. Most of the electronic media created a media hype that some sort of havoc or larger disaster was to follow beneath the Atta Abad Lake, in the case of its outburst, which would destroy and wash away the populations inhabited on both sides of Indus river right from Hunza down to the Terbella Dame. More than twenty thousand people from both sides of river Hunza – Nagar were shifted to temporary camps in relatively safe zones.
The Attaabad artificial lake submerged the whole village of Ayeenabad, almost 60 % of village Shishkat-Nazimabad and about 20-25 % of the population of Gulmit (the Tehsil Headquarter of Gojal) and their properties including houses, lands, orchards and places of public services, such as, schools, Mosques and Jamat Khanas.
Under such circumstances, the services rendered by Focus Humanitarian Assistance Pakistan (AKDN); Red Crescent Society Pakistan, GB; Pakistan Army’s Aviation Department and the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) were exemplary and unique in terms of providing rescue and relief to directly and indirectly affected population in the area.
Now AKDN together with NDMA is preparing an Early Recovery Plan to rebuild and rehabilitate the affected population. However, the affected population has been voicing for their timely rehabilitation but, as usual, the bureaucratic system has its own abilities and disabilities in handling such situations.
Secondly, the nation went through another huge disaster of flooding as a result of unusual rainfalls during the past few months so the attention was diverted from Hunza to other parts of GB and rest of Pakistan.
It is also a truth that sufferings of the affectees can only be felt and understood by themselves or by the ones who went out to provide rescue and relief to their brothers and sisters in Hunza and other parts of the country. We should also express our gratitude to the International community, especially to our great neighbor, China, for providing huge quantity of relief goods to more than 25,000 souls inhabiting different parts of Tehsil Gojal.
The rehabilitation work has partly been delayed due to the standing water in this huge lake, the level of which requires to be lowered to the point where the KKH opens up for repairing and reconstruction. The affected people are looking with high hopes towards the federal and GB government, AKDN, NDMA and other organizations for an organized reconstruction and rehabilitation process.
The first Governor (designate) Gilgit-Baltistan and the current Federal Minister for Information, Mr. Qamar Zaman Kaira, had immediately visited the site of the disaster and addressing the affected people made some important announcements; among so many other steps, he announced that the tuition fee of all students from Atta Abad and beyond (Tehsil Gojal) will be paid by the government for one year, whether these students study in the government institutions or private and NGO institutions. To materialize these steps, the Deputy Director, NDMA of GB Government circulated a notification on 13th April 2010, in which the GB Education Department was given clear instructions to take necessary steps towards fulfilling government’s obligation.
The parents and students went through a horrible experience of filling forms that were duly signed by the concerned institutional heads and then sent to their Tehsils for verification of the students being genuine resident of the area. Then the forms were collected at the Directorate of Education through their concerned ADIs. Months have passed since then, but the amounts (tuition fees) of students studying in different institutions all over Pakistan have not been released so far either to their institutions or to the students. Parents are compelled to borrow money from different sources to deposit their children fees, fearing that their children may not be asked to leave their institutions on the basis of non-payment of fees.
The Department of Education in its office order dated 6th July 2010 constituted the following four committees to resolve this issue amicably:
• Dr. Ali Madad Sher, Minister for Education, GB (Chairman)
• Mr. Mutabiat Shah, Member GBLA (Member)
• Mehboob Ali Khan, DS Education, GB (Chairman)
• Rao Muhammad Akhlaq, DE (Academics) (Member)
• Mir Ahmed Khan, DE (Colleges) (Member)
• Wafa Baig, ADE (Chairman)
• Fazal Karim, ADE (Member)
• Muhammad Afzal, Statistician (Member)
Field Committee consisted
• ADI (Chairman)
• Tehsildar (Member)
• Numberdar/Chairman/SMC (Member)
Although we are fully aware of the fact that not only Gilgit-Baltistan but the whole country is passing through a difficult and challenging phase of its history as a result of different disasters that struck the whole nation. Despite all these challenges, the parents as well as students very humbly appeal to the local government and the department of education to take immediate actions on the announcements and notifications made by the local government and save them from financial and psychological crises. This step would not only minimize the troubles faced by the affected people of Atta Abad disaster but would also establish the credibility of the elected government among the public.