[Editorial] Two years of Attabad “Steel-way”

The Spillway of dammed Hunza River near Attabad has been a subject of interesting political and social discourse during the two years of its existence. The lake and its spillway have been hot topics among local theatre artists, activists and poets, as well as the ordinary residents of Hunza Valley and beyond.

The term “Spillway”, completely new for residents of the dammed valley before January 4, 2010, is being used to denote trends or objects that are annoyingly consistent or a source of social tension. Many, wittingly, refer to the spillway as “Steel Way”, to describe its ‘strength’ and persistence.

The Frontier Works Organization (FWO), engineering arm of the Pakistan Army, has been working on the spillway, objectives being expansion of the flow-path and lowering of the spillway’s height, to release more water, through excavation. In the process, a senior officer of Pakistan Army, Col. Arif, lost his life, while trying to save two of his soldiers stuck in middle of the spillway on top of an excavator machine. The 24 months long engagement, however, has not led to significant changes in dimension of the spillway and the lake.

Locals have been demanding the transfer of expansion and excavation work to China, a country known for its expertise and experience of breaching accidentally dammed rivers and streams. Despite of several reassurances, however, the situation remains unchanged.

Currently, the FWO continues working on the spillway, blasting huge boulders and trying to block the river’s flow, to be able to carry-out more excavation along the existing spillway’s length.

The local people are demanding quicker resolution of their issues. Several protest rallies have been planned across the country on the second anniversary of the landslide tragedy that had killed 19 residents of Attabad Village and blocked the Hunza gorge.

The aftermath of this disaster has been nothing short of a nightmare for residents of the otherwise peaceful Hunza Valley. Massive rallies, agitation and protest demonstrations, that culminated in the shooting of two protesters by police in Aliabad on August 11, 2011, have negatively affected the image of Hunza as a tourist destination. The agonies of hundreds of families were doubled by the registration of cases of ‘terrorism’ against hundreds of youth who had taken part in violent protests after the unprovoked police shooting that led to the murder of the father and son. No decision has yet been taken against the culprits who took two lives. The report of a judicial inquiry remains hidden, despite of public demands for transparency and justice.

The national media is silent over the issue since June 2010, the month when a national hype was created by reports the potential of amassive destruction as a result of a sudden outburst of the dammed river.

The “Steel-Way” has defied all predictions and stands even today, as a symbol of the state and government’s failure to reduce the impact of a natural disaster, as well as a reminder of nature’s persistence and the helplessness of the affected people.

The government needs to take concrete steps to ensure that the issue of transportation, through reconstruction of the old road and lowering of the spillway’s height, is resolved and the IDPs are rehabilitated, according to various programmes agreed and announced during the past two years. Further delays will only help aggravate the situation.

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  1. Let us be practical: the issue of this Attabad landslide barrier is complex and it has defied all expert opinion. In addition the Government should have awarded the contract to Chinese contractors instead of FWO.This has lead to delay.One sad aspect of this is the land route (road) connection to China is dysfunctional.Opening the road should be top priority

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