Sat. Jul 2nd, 2022

Miseries Galore in Gilgit-Baltistan

A street in Gilgit city during winter


Jabir Hassan


Most of the people living in mainland Pakistan have only seen the glamorized, romanticized and exaggerated scenic pictures and videos of Gilgit-Blatistan in social media. However, the reality is something different from what is being portrayed in media. It is among the regions with least basic facilities in Pakistan. Being a high altitude region with fragile ecosystem, climate change is wreaking havoc in the region which is further incited by unregulated tourism and deforestation. Despite abundance of natural resources, it is facing issues like energy crisis and water crisis. All the above mentioned issues are making the lives of locals miserable.

According to the Climate Scientist of Rutgers University, the rate of temperature rise in high altitude regions is 75% faster than regions at low altitudes. Gilgit-Baltistan, being a high altitude region is prone to catastrophes of climate change. The recent Glacier Lake outburst  flood of Shisper Glacier is a glimpse of climate calamities that are further going to be exacerbated in coming years. Pakistan Meteorological Department has mentioned more than 3000 Glacier lakes in Northern Areas, out of which 33 lakes have been assessed to be prone to hazardous glacier lake outburst flooding. Dozens of villages at the backdrop of these glaciers are now at the mercy of God. Only one percent of land in Gilgit-Baltistan is cultivatable. Crops in this one percent irrigated land are further being damaged by floods which exacerbates the possibility of food insecurity in the region.

The unregulated tourism industry, lack of infrastructure and poor waste management system is playing a role of eco-terrorism in Gilgit-Baltistan. Haphazard construction of large capitalistic environmental damaging models of restaurants and hotels all over the region are responsible for the ecocide of fragile environment. According to Business Recorder Magazine, 1.72 million tourists visited Gilgit-Baltistan in 2021. This number is equal to the native population of region. Influx of these large number of tourists without proper code of conduct are curtailing the natural beauty of scenic destinations. In addition, it further incites the issue of traffic and waste management. If tourism industry is not driven by proper policies, it will certainly be a disastrous for the fragile eco-system of Gilgit-Baltistan.

The issue of energy crisis in Gilgit-Baltistan is also one of the major issues of the region. According to a Norwegian Survey, Gilgit-Baltistan has potential to produce 50,000 MW cheap hydro-energy which is more than the total requirement of Pakistan. Despite of these facts, Gilgit-Baltistan faces an average 15 hours load-shedding throughout the year. Power outrage in the region is affecting livelihood of thousands of people. Many small scale industries are not able to use their maximum potential due to power shortage. The huge hydro-power potential of the region can play a key role in uplifting the socio-economic conditions of Gilgit-Baltistan by providing access to new avenues to utilize the potential of educated youth in IT sector and  e-commerce. Successive governments have made promises to solve the issue of energy crisis, but due to lack of political will they have failed to do so.

With increasing population and unplanned urbanization in Skardu, the city is facing severe water shortage. The only source of fresh water for Skardu city is Sadpara Dam. The level of water in dam is at alarming level making Skardu city prone to water scarcity. Many people are demanding from the government to divert Shathong Nala of Deosai towards Sadpara Dam. Although doing so will solve the issue of water crisis in Skardu city, but it will certainly have negative impacts on the scenic beauty of Deosai National Park. In addition, it will pose threats to the biodiversity of National Park. Therefore, diversion of Shathong Nala is not a wise solution. Government must look for other alternatives. The level of ground water is not that deep in Skardu. Therefore, it is easy to construct tube wells. Although the underground water in Skardu city is not feasible for drinking because here sanitation water is being dumped into the ground, but it can be used for agriculture and other domestic purposes. If water of Sadpara dam is used for only drinking, we might be able to solve the issue of water scarcity for next few years.

In short, the growing tourism industry and increasing population in Gilgit-Baltistan without proper planning is causing serious problems in the region. In addition, climate change, unregulated tourism, energy crisis and water scarcity are making the lives of locals miserable.

Mainstream media does not highlight these issues that is why majority of people are unaware about these issues. In terms of natural beauty one can compare Gilgit-Baltistan with Switzerland, but in terms of basic facilities it is just another Afghanistan. 

Twitter: @Jabir_hasn

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