Unfading memories of the Attabad Disaster

Sher Wali

Some events of our lives become immortal. No matter how hard we try to forget them they just linger on, often refreshing feelings of pain and suffering. One such incident was the horrendous Attabad landslide disaster that struck the Attabad village on 4 January 2010, in the Hunza valley. I can vividly visualize the destruction caused by a mega landslide disaster. It was a horrific incident which many of us observed. We saw deaths, injuries and losses. We also observed people sharing and caring for each other, looking after each other, sympathizing, above and across myriad identities.

Today, as we observe the 4th anniversary of the Attabad disaster, I would like to share some observations, lessons and suggestions.

Sher Wali
Sher Wali

I remember the first house being dismantled in Ayeenabad village of Gojal Valley, as the water surged and destroyed everything that stood in its path. The first house to be dismantled belonged to Ghulam Nasir.

There was immense fear in the atmosphere on that day. On many instances, the fear would spill into anger and people would voice their frustration by protesting.

There were four houses in the lower terrace of the Ayeenabad village. All four houses submerged simultaneously, leaving the residents homeless. Decades of hardwork sank in front of the people, as they watched the disaster unfolding, brick by brick, stone by stone and field by field.

I remember the day when the house of Ghulam Qadir uncle was marked for evacuation. The community members from Shishkat and the surrounding villages had gathered to dismantle the house, a trend that not only comforted the disaster hit family, but it also helped create harmony among the people. All felt at loss and this, probably, reduced the feeling of loss.

I remember Ghulam Qadir uncle’s words when he addressed the villagers. “I had earned enough money to construct this house, saving from food and not wearing good cloths. Now I am allowing people to demolish it
, he said, tears rolling down his cheeks.

A palace-like, beautiful, house owned by Karim khan was also demolished, before the water could reach it. The idea was to save whatever could be salvaged. The wooden pillars that supported the house’s roof, laden with sand and straw, were covered with intricate floral carvings. The stone masonry had turned that house into a unique piece of mountain architecture. No doubt, the owner could not decide whether to demolish the house or leave it, praying for the water to recede.

But then came the morning of destruction. He saw the waves crashing and the water rising inch by inch every hour, nearing the boundary wall of the house. The house was demolished.

The most painful moments were those when I read the writings on their demolished walls. Six year old Sohail had written, “Thank you my sweet home. Now we are handing you over to the water”.

One early morning Ghulam Qadir Rasul uncle was standing on the road, 10 meters away from his gradually submerging house. He had come there from an IDP camp set up by some NGOs and the government. “I have come here to say khuda Hafiz  to my house and see it for the last time”, the aged man, his face weathered with hard work and wet with tears, said. He stood there for more than half an hour and when the house completely disappeared in the Turquoise colored lake he brought out his handkerchief from the pocket, wiped out his tears, and slowly starting moving towards the camp that had now become his home.

The story of Attabad landslide and the victims of the disaster is a reminder that we need to prepare well and anticipate the risks of natural hazards. Without putting effective disaster management plans in place, we will be faced with similar disasters in the future, because the elements of nature are always ready to wreak havoc.

Disasters are natural and sometimes humans also play the role of a catalyst, speeding up the pace of disaster. At the same time, human intervention can also pace down, mitigate, or avert disasters.

We have, fortunately or unfortunately, been witnesses to some of the most horrendous disasters of the history of Pakistan. Surely we have learnt many lessons from these disasters. Whether we use the lessons to our advantage or not will depend on how we plan, share experiences and prepare for coping up with future threats. One thing that we can be sure of is that the natural hazards are not going to finish, or even decrease in size and frequency.

The contributor is a Geologist working for an NGO. 

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