People decry inaction as lake threat rises

by Zulfiqar Ali Khan

HUNZA, Jan 23: It is 23 days since the massive landslide hit Atabad village, blocking the Karakoram Highway (KKH), the only land link between China and Pakistan, bringing to a halt the civic and commercial life in Gojal. With the passage of time, shops, stores, and health units are running out of stocks of food and other daily use items and medicines.

An artificial lake has formed on the Hunza River inundating a number of villages in Gojal. The rise in the level of lake water is endangering thousands of lives upstream and downstream in other parts of Hunza-Nagar and Gilgit districts.

The people while praising government for its quick relief operation and airlifting of food to Gojal are highly critical of the pace of work in releasing the lake water.

“There is a threat of sudden outburst of the lake,” said an official involved in the relief operation and monitoring of the post-disaster situation quoting a latest report prepared by Wapda experts. “The outburst of the lake can generate a wave of 20 to 30 meters high which can wipe out settlements and installations downstream,” he added and proposed “all the line departments should be asked for physical survey/identification of such vulnerable installations and evacuation of people to safer places.” He also apprehended that all the bridges starting from Sarat down to Gilgit are extremely vulnerable. Hence, all the line departments may be directed to ensure stock of necessary items for at least two to three months.

Although the Frontier Works Organisation and China Road and Bridges Construction Company (CRBC) workers have started work to remove debris and construction of approach road to the blocked site, the pace is very slow, he said stressing the authorities concerned to expedite the work to create a breach in the lake so that the losses could be minimised.

“Most of the machinery available with the workers is not in good condition. The government should arrange latest and reliable machinery from either CRBC or any oth er firm,” he said. The Frontier Works Organisation has estimated that the lake water will be released in 45 days.

The experts monitoring the water level in the lake opine that the whole Ayeenabad and part of Shishkat Payeen (lower) would submerge before the 45 days deadline. The lake has already submerged 800 kanals of cultivable and non-cultivable lands, thousands of fruit and forest trees in Ayeenabad.

Anticipating the possible threat, Focus Humanitarian Assistance has evacuated the inmates of nine houses. Niaz Wali, a geologist of Focus informed Dawn that the water outlet in the blockade is still 98 meters high from the present water level in the lake. He said the water rises with an average of 1.1 meters (3.6 feet) in 24 hours and the water inflow in the lake is 250 cubic meter meters (882 cubic feet) per second. He said the inflow could increase with the rise in the temperature. The lake is stretched over about 9 kilometres. About 33 families in Ayeenabad and 119 families in Shishkat Payeen (lower) were facing immediate threat, he said. The water has inundated about 500 meters of KKH in Ayeenabad further disconnecting and damaging about 5km of the highway.

Complete at DAWN

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