Abid Karim Tashi
Somewhere in a Night School book I had read the story of a very wise and prosperous king. Once, he was on a journey with many of his companions. A goat was slaughtered on the way to cook food for the king. Unfortunately, the servants seemed to have forgotten to bring salt with them. They asked the king if they can borrow salt from people of a nearby village, to which the kind said yes. They borrowed the salt and the king asked did they pay the locals for the salt! In response the ministers said that for the king the people should give it freely and they need not to be paid by the king.
The king sent the men back to pay for the salt, saying that if we create an example of taking things freely from the poor people today, tomorrow they will also start doing the same and start depending on others instead of struggling for their own lives and this would bring misery to the people.
Now let’s come to the relief that we, the people of Gojal Valley, have been getting from different sources.
According to the definition, food relief means providing food and related assistance to tackle hunger, either in disaster situations, or to aid with longer term, deeper food dearth mitigation and attain food security (where people do not have to live in hunger or in fear of starvation). The word, hunger, must be kept in mind.
After the January 4, 2010 incident of Atta Abad land slide the drama of the food relief for the people of Gojal is really watchable. By June 2010 the destruction of the local lands by the damming of Hunza River was at its optimum and maximum of the destruction had occurred. Till that time the Government was neither seriously concerned about giving any food aid to the effected people nor was it ready to accept the Chinese offer of help.
In late July 2010, Pakistan faced the worst floods of its history, which led to the destruction of up to one fifth of the country’s landmass affecting over twenty million people. In that scenario, Pakistan had to ask for relief from the international community and many of the nations donated and contributed to the rehabilitation of the destroyed parts. Meanwhile the Pakistani authorities went to China to get help and support from the Chinese Government for the rehabilitation and the Chinese Govt. made an agreement with the Pakistani authorities that china would take the responsibility of giving food relief to the all the areas upstream of the Atta Abad lake. In other words, China took responsibility to look after the people living in the whole Gojal Valley, a population of over twenty five thousand people.
Now, the question to ponder here is that the Gojal region was not directly affected due to the floods in rest of Pakistan directly and the Atta Abad landslide had occurred months before the floods, so how did China realize the need of food relief after the passage of so long time? Why did the Pakistani authorities not ask the Chinese to help the region before the floods?
Moreover, if these actions really were taken in order to relieve the affected people, there were more important problems as compared to food, which the authorities should have worked to resolve. For example, the issue of transportation system could have been resolved by breaking the dam or by constructing an alternative road. These actions could have provided solutions for the immediate issues, on a long term basis.
And if, someone shares the excuses that these actions (breaking the dam or making alternate road) were not feasible, that person is either unaware of the modern world technologies or is misguiding the people. The Chinese construction industry is one of the healthiest construction industries and removing the soil debris was a matter of few months for the giant constructors. The volume/mass of earth that was to be removed is much less than that of the earth that is to excavated in case of construction of high raised building like?? The Pakistani Govt. due to international pressures and poor leadership did not allow the Chinese to work out for resolving the long term problems.
One more interesting thing that we observed happened just after the Chinese authorities started supplying relief food to the people of Gojal, suddenly the World food Programme (WFP) came from nowhere, aiming to help the people by providing food relief. It looks funny to see that the FWP was providing food relief to people who had already been given food enough for a whole year!
Many people, rightly, asked as to where was the concentration of WFP before the Chinese provided the food relief. To the surprise of many, on each item of the food the WHO provided there is written “From the American People”. Why don’t the American people provide this food to those who are dying because of draught in Africa and many other parts of the world? The clever people know the answer.
Coming back to the issue of Chinese food relief, the people of Gojal and some other areas happily enjoyed the food relief of the first year, cooked and enjoyed Samosas, Pakoras, Jalebis and Halwa, as well as many other dishes. They enjoyed the high quantity of sugar in tea which made it much sweeter; normally the people drink tea with salt. The use of sweets increased, people ate much more rice that they usually consumed, the bread they made were now made up of much more refined and finer wheat and above all this was totally free, they did not do any effort in order to get this food, they got only because the a massive land slide took the life of some twenty or around of their people and because of the land that some of their brothers had lost due to the dammed Hunza River.
During the first year the people had many high expectations both from the Pakistani and Chinese Governments that a solution for the dammed river, in the form of either reconstruction of the sunken part of Karakoram Highway (KKH) or by drainage of the dammed river, would come. People were also expecting some miracle from God (but God does not help those who don’t help themselves) to to drain the lake, which is certainly an eventuality.
The first year passed and the second came, and I was really surprised to hear that the Chinese were again providing food relief to the people. For me this was really confusing, the question that arouse in my mind were;
- Do we really need the relief?
- Why are the Chinese feeding us like this?
- Why are the long term solutions not being focused despite of the fact that the cost of feeding 25,000 people for two years might be much more than the cost of removal of the earth debris or construction of alternative road and access to Hunza?
- Why are educational and other financial matters not being focused?
There are many other minor questions that would be following when we think of these basic questions. But the answer to these answers are encompassed in some key issues that once realized would give the answer to each of them.
The most important issue that our people must realize is the strategic importance of our land – Gilgit – Baltistan in gernal and Gojal Hunza, in particular, for China, Pakistan, the Central Asian Republics and for the other key players of the world.
We need to think about the long term issues that we might face. We need to continue bringing advancements in the areas of educational standards, including awareness about the global, national, regional and local political scenario. We must keep a strong grip on all that belongs to us till the end. One year food is not what we need we can produce enough food to survive.
Even if we die that is better than selling our prosperity, we need solutions to the long term problems and we have to clear our ways for the future.
The contributor is studying for Bachelor (BE) degree, at NUST Institute of Civil Engineering. He blogs at www.abidtashi.wordpress.com