[Interview]Wazir Baig, Speaker Gilgit-Baltistan Legislative Assembly (GBLA)
February 2, 2010 4 Comments
GB Times: Immediately after you have taken the prestigious office of the speaker of Gilgit-Baltistan Legislative Assembly (GBLA), the disaster of land sliding in Attabad, Hunza posed a major challenge for you and your government. How do you take it?
Wazir Baig: It was one of the major natural disasters ever happened in the history of Hunza, which has devastated many families and we lost many precious lives beside the loss of property and homes. First of all being a son of Hunza, all my sympathies were with the affected people of Attabad, Sarat and Salmanabad and I was sharing the same pain and grief as that of any other person from Hunza and may be even more because I have a major responsibility towards people of the area.
In the capacity of my representative from Hunza, my first thought was how to reach for helping the people who were affected. The very moment I got the news of the unfortunate event I started to mobilize all available government machinery. In order to mobilize the resources in Islamabad, I contacted the Governor Kaira and we have been able to reach for the help of our affected brothers and sisters in a timely and affective manner.
GB Times: Many people blame that the government had not taken timely action in advance in order to avert the happening of this catastrophe, although reports were generated and surveys were done years back. All the repots and surveys indicates that information was provided regarding the highly risky situation of Attabas, therefore if proactive action had been taken the people might not have suffered much as they are doing today?
Wazir Baig: I do agree with you, there were indications of a possible earth movement and risk for the consequent damages, however I was not in a political authoritative position at the time, but people of the area were informed. Thanks to timely information at the minimum level of what could have been done, the people from Attabad were taken out to the safe places. The loss of lives did not occur at Attabad but at Sarat, which was never considered to be affected by the Attabad land sliding. If people of Attabad had not been taken to the safer place, Alas, the damage could have been more, for which we could have not forgiven to ourselves.
Here, I do not meant to defend the government institutions or myself, I could realize that much could have been done, and proactive planning for the settlement of the Attabad area was possible to have done earlier, however, it was not done. It is a sorry state of our overall system and affairs which we should improve immediately.
I feel and people could testify as well that I have taken all the possible measure in the reach to provide as immediate relief as possible for the victims of the area. In this regard relief in terms of food, residence, medicines and monetary compensation to the aggrieved families who have lost their dear and loved ones as well as those who were injured immediate support had been provided. Further we are working on the permanent settlement of the displaced people as Attabad and Sarat are no more safe for resettlement of the people.
GB TIMES: When the resettlement plan would be implemented for the victims of Attabad disaster?
Wazir Baig: The measurement of land for the purpose of compensation has been done which will be evaluated soon for the compensation and payment will be made to the deserving people. Currently there is no time line fixed regarding payment, however, I am doing all the best possible to make as early payment as it is possible.
GB TIMES: There are other legitimate demands by the people of Attabad and Sarat such as provision of employment, special financial relief package and the immediate construction of link road from Ahmadabad to Sarart. How about the progress in this regard?
Wazir Baig: I consider these all as genuine and legitimate demands by the people, we have already taken action on many of these demands such as financial relief regarding all the unpaid loans of Banks, announcement of 3,000,000/= (thirty lacs of rupees) for the construction of Ahmadabad to Salmanabad link road. We are also considering provision of employment for the affected people on priority basis.
GB TIMES: What are the major challenges currently you are facing due to the Attabad disaster, particularly due to the blockage of Hunza River and resultant lake that is submerging villages of Ayeenabad, Shishkat and parts of Gulmit.
Wazir Baig: We are in picture and the government at highest level is concerned about the situation. The after affects of Attabad disaster are highly challenging for the people of Ayeenabad, Shishkat in particular and for the rest of Gojal, Hunza as well. Due to the blockage of KKH and the lake build up people are suffering and I do feel that pain. However, government has taken all the possible measure to help the people of Gojal-Hunza, helicopter service was immediately started to air lift those who were ill and in emergency situations as well as to drop food items and fuel. The helicopter service is continuously operating since than.
GB TIMES: People are very much worried regarding lake buildup, and it is felt that immediate action has not been taken to release the water of the lack, what is the future strategy.
Wazir Baig: I do not agree to the point that immediate action is not taken, rather due to the blockage of KKH both the government of China and Pakistan got alarmed as strategically it is highly important for both countries. It was desire of the both government to release the water from the lake as quickly as possible. However, as you know the debris of the Attabad land sliding spread over a range of two kilometers that is made up of boulders, mud and heavy rocks. In order to open the way for the release of water several studies had been done by the government of Pakistan and China and NGOs to make sure that without causing much further damage the dame should be opened, so it has taken a bit of time.
Now you see that both China and government of Pakistan through joint efforts are taking actions and it is the top most priority in current situation to release the water of the lake as soon as possible.
GB TIMES: What is the plan for compensating the losses of all those who have lost their properties, lands and homes in Ayeenabad and Shiskat right now and is expected much more?
Wazir Baig: On the same lines of Attabad, the survey of all property and land which could come underwater and get damaged has already been done in Ayeenabad and Shishkat. All those who will suffer due this natural disaster we would try to compensate them at the best.
GB TIMES: How do you see the role of people of Hunza and other concerned organizations in this catastrophic situation?
Honestly I am highly touched to see the enthusiasm, volunteerism and sense of mutual help among all the people of Hunza (Kilik to Mayoun) who came forward to help the people of Attabad, Sarat, Salmanabad, Ayeenabad and Shiskhat in our traditional way of love and helping each other. It was great to observe that as usually it happens in Hunza people have forgotten all sought of political, and regional difference to help the people of victims. I salute to my people of Hunza, about whom I am always feeling proud.
I would also thank the organization such as FOCUS Humanitarian Assistance Programme, Red Crescent, Ismaili regional council, PDMA, FWO, The government of China, Administration of Gilgit, and Administration of Hunza-Nagar and the commitment of the members of GBLA. It needed to be paid highest appreciation for the invaluable contribution and at organizational level to all who have made extraordinary efforts to help the victims.
GB TIMES: Thank you so much the Speaker GBLA, Wazir Baig for sparing your valued time on a very short notice. We also appreciate your highly productive contribution to face the challenges and resolving the issues of the victims very effectively and efficiently.
Wazir Baig: I thank GB TIMES for its commendable contribution to raise awareness regarding the genuine political, social, and environmental issues of Gilgit-Baltistan and I wish you best of luck for your future endeavors.