Gojal clamours for urgent attention

by Zulfiqar Ali Khan

A month has already passed since the devastating landslide of Atabad Hunza. KKH, the lifeline of communication between Pakistan and China lies blocked. This situation coupled with the already poor communication infrastructure in Gojal area has increased the miseries and danger to the lives of the 25,000 inhabitants of the area.

The experts monitoring the water level in the lake formed as a result of the landslide estimate the water inflow in the lake at 200 to 250 cubic foot per second. This is raising the level of the lake by an average of 2.6 feet per day. Presently the lake stretches to about 11 km towards Gulmit and it is estimated to further increase to about 25-30 kilometres towards Hussaini village.

The water has already inundated 900 kanals of land and thousands of orchards in Ayeenabad and Shishkat Payeen (lower), besides submerging 11 houses while others are watching haplessly and waiting to see when their houses go under water that has also damaged the electricity and telephone infrastructure. According to experts, the height of the potential spillways point is still 79 meters from the present water level in the artificial lake.

The Frontier Works Organisation is working as the coordinating agency of Army on the excavation of the spillway. The Rs54 million project was started on Jan 29 after completing a 600 meters approach road, eleven days after the disaster.

The authorities have given March 15 as deadline for the release of the water. The slush debris is hindering the pace of work. Presently about 60 workers with four excavators, four bulldozers and one compressor are engaged in the work on the site.

According to FWO about 13,952 cubic meters of the total 112,500 cubic meter (13 per cent) debris from the spillway had been excavated till Thursday.

The local people are, however, dissatisfied with the pace of work and demand deployment of more machinery to ensure immediate release of water to save the settlement in Gojal.

According to experts, the lake could submerge about 14,800 kanal of mostly cultivable land in Ayeenabad, Shishkat and Gulmit -3,000 kanal in Ayeenabad, 7,000 kanal in Shishkat, 3,000 kanal in Shishkat Payeen and 1,800 in Gulmit. The estimate further reveals that the lake could submerge 187 houses displacing 1,736 people — 32 houses in Ayeenabad, 157 in Shishkat centre and payeen and 10 in Gulmit.

The lake has already submerged 3.5km of KKH and could submerge about 25km of KKH from the blockade area to Hussaini village. Experts predict that the water could submerge the main bridge on KKH between Gulmit and Shishkat village within 15-20 days. This will cut off the more than 3,000 population of Shishkat village from the rest of the world.

The authorities are not ruling out the possibility of sudden bursting of the lake which could devastate the settlements downstream in Hunza-Nagar and Gilgit district. According to some reports, if this happens it would not only wash the settlements along the river but also damage KKH, bridges and other installations.

The district administration and Focus, an NGO, has established early warning system for the communities living in low-lying areas downstream. A similar blockade of the river near the present site in 1858 not only submerged the low-lying areas upstream but also washed areas up to Attock drowning about 1,500 Sikh soldiers.

Meanwhile, the eleven families of Ayeenabad who have lost their houses and properties in the lake are still unattended and the government has not yet registered them as IDPs. The people are living with host families without any proper relief. With the passage of time the number of displaced people will increase adding to the problems for the authorities.

An initial survey of FOCUS identifies three more potential disaster areas in Hunza-Nagar. NDMA should expedite efforts for a complete geological survey of whole GilgitBaltistan and plan accordingly.

Proper communication infrastructure like online banking facilities and internet service should be extended to Gojal in order to ensure proper communication disaster situation. DAWN

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