By Syed Mujahid Ali Shah
In January this year, the Hunza Valley witnessed a disastrous landslide resulting in the loss of 21 lives and inundating hundreds of hectares of land in the lower region of Gojal in upper Hunza. Landslide debris blocked the Hunza river to create the 20km long and more than two km wide lake at Attabad. Currently, due to landsliding and erosion of rocks exacerbated by heavy rains and floods, a similar situation is developing in the village of Miachar, district Hunza Nagar, some 80km north-east of Gilgit. Sajjad Hussain who studies glaciers and the landscape of Hunza Nagar at the Gilgit Resarch Centre said, “Miachar had also eroded in 1908-9 but it was only the lower edges of the village that slid into Hunza river and stopped the water flow for less than a week. Since it was summer, high river flow washed away the debris very soon. He added that with heavy rainfall and earthquakes in the vicinity, the land mass was pushed further towards the Hunza river. In a landslide situation in Miachar, debris of more than 300 metres can extend upto three kilometres in the river stream, forming a lake even bigger than Attabad because the landmass of Miachar is 10 times greater and could block the river for over 18 months. At least seven villages in Nagar, from Tashot to the Shyar-Asqurdas-Sumayar (SAS) valley in the upper Nagar subdivision as well the lower regions of central Hunza starting from Murtazabad to Ganish, can be submerged. “It is high time the government and the NGOs took the matter seriously and prepare the plans to cope with a possible disaster even bigger than Attabad,” said Sajjad Hussain while showing me an electronic map of Hunza Nagar on his laptop where he had marked the danger zones in red. I travelled to Miacher last May on the way to Gilgit from my home village of Phakar. Traffic was diverted to the right side of the Hunza river to Nagar, since a minor landslide had blocked the KKH at Chikas near the village of Nasirabad/Hindi on the Hunza side. Only small vehicles were able to go through the narrow road at an altitude of more than 3,000 metres to cross Miacher before going down to Minapin to finally reach the KKH at Pisan. We returned from the blockade at Chikas and went down to the Tashot bridge, beneath which runs the Hunza river, surrounded by high and steep rocks. The road to Phakar via Tashot bridge is locally called pul siraat for being dangerously narrow, and many stories of unfortunate accidents are associated with it. As we took the western road leading up to Dadimal, the van stopped for more passengers. Jan Alam who edits a monthly magazine in Karachi on the culture of Nagar, also joined us. He showed me the historical site of Miachar-i-Khan, visible from the KKH at Chikas on the border of Dadimal and Miachar, at the crest of the village above the Hunza river. As the van reached closer we saw a 400-year-old mosque and Matamsara (Imambara) which he said are the only places where people still come to pray while other buildings built over 1,200 years ago were ruined and abandoned. He explained that previously people used to live in clusters at the crest just above the river in a strategy to fight the Hunzakut tribes who would cross the river in the low winter tide to steal cattle and edibles from Nagarites. With a population of 2,500, Miachar is embedded on the Hunza river on a sulphur line on the steep bare rock of the Kacheli mountain. Several water springs create a weak land mass. Miachar faces the Rakaposhi and Minapin glacier in the south. Parallel to the village and across the river is the Karakoram Highway (KKH). In Miachar, I saw gardens of walnut trees and potato fields on the slopes. “We have to build big barriers of cloth sheets from tree to tree to stop walnuts rolling down to the river,” said Muhammad Essa, a government tractor driver, clearing a blockade in the village. The government has established a middle school and a health dispensary in the village. “Miachar is so steep that children in the local middle school have to be very careful when they play volley ball because a forceful hit can roll the ball all the way into the river and nothing can stop it in between” says Yousuf Ali, a local school teacher, who was also in the van with us. “Miachar is eroding and the land patch on which the village is perched is sliding towards the river hence facing a severe threat of massive landslide in the area,” said Yousaf Ali. Being the linguistic boundary between the Shina and Burushaski speaking population in Nagar, Miachar is also important from the cultural point of view. It borders the Minapin in the west, from where starts the belt of Shinaki; people only speak Shina in the region though a minority of Burushaski speakers settled here later. From Miachar onwards, is the Burusho-Nagar area where people speak only Burushaski. “If we lose Miachar, it will not only cause a loss of human life, animals and land but also the heritage of Miachar-i-Khan, widening the gap between two languages and sub-cultures that the village unites,” said Jan. Each day big boulders and rocks fall from higher altitudes in the northern part of the village and make headlines in the local newspapers of Gilgit. Recently several grasslands and crops were destroyed, five homes were totally damaged and the number of internally displaced people is steadily on the rise. The road connecting Miachar to the outside world through Minapin in the west has been damaged as it is beneath the main sliding spot. Villagers opt to take an alternative relatively farther and dangerous route, via Dadimal in the east and then down to the Tashot bridge to reach the KKH. Students have stopped going to high school in Minapin because of fear of crossing the landslide area.
Originally Published by the daily DAWN