Prolonged closure of Karakoram Highway disrupts life in Gilgit-Baltistan

Gilgit/Islamabad/Besham: The Karakoram Highway has been closed for traffic since 2nd April, the day torrential rainfall triggered hazards wreaked havoc across the Gilgit-Baltistan region, killing 16 people, mostly in the Diamer District. The Karakoram Highway was blocked at more than a hundred locations, which has now been cleared for most part, save for two major blockades in the Kohistan District of KPK.

A portion of the KKH was completely destroyed by a landslide in the Chuchang area of Dassu, Komila, while a major landslide blocked the treacherous highway in Kiyal area.

According to accounts shared by passengers, the repair work in these two areas is very slow. “We could see only one machine trying to blast the way through the rocks in Chuchang area”, said a passenger, who also shared a photograph of the active machine.

The government of Gilgit-Baltistan has said that opening the road for traffic can take up to one more week.

Shortage of food items 

Meanwhile, people in Gilgit-Baltistan are hit worst by the shortage of petroleum products and edible items. Wheat and flour have been transported to the region in C-130 planes operated by the armed forces, and the government is upbeat in asserting that there’s no shortage of wheat in the region. Nevertheless, the crowds of people appearing in the streets of Gilgit city to protest against wheat and flour shortage tells a different tale.

One government minister today said that the shortage has been caused by black-marketing of wheat.

The Pakistan Army has also donated around 50 tons of wheat, according to a local reporter, specifically for residents of the remote border areas, like Shimshal, Chipursan and Hispar.

While most of the inter-district and intra-district roads have been cleared, the blockades on the KKH are causing severe difficulties for the residents of the mountainous region where per capita land holding and severe weather patterns, coupled with population growth, hamper the production of crops in large quantities.

Areas like Chipursan, Hisper and Shimshal, and other remote border areas, still remain disconnected due to road closure caused by multiple landslides, rockfall and avalanches. The Pakistan Army plans to transport edible items to these region on choppers, which might help reduce the sufferings of the people to some extent.

Irrigation Water Channels

The lands across Gilgit-Baltistan are irrigated by using glacial water brought to the human settlements by digging channels through vulnerable mountain sloped and rocks. These water channels have been damaged to a very large extent across the region, posing a serious threat to the livelihood means of thousands of farmers.

Power Outages

The floods and landslides have also damaged water channels, power houses and other infrastructures, serving a major blow to the government exchequer. Many cities and villages remain without electricity for almost ten days.

There’s a debate raging in the region, on social media platforms, where people are complaining about the loss of self-reliance and self-sustenance. “We used to grow and consume our own food, but now we are completely left the mercy of the Karakoram Highway”, commented a person on a Facebook discussion thread.

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