[News] Blame game continues as Attabad lake floods

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GILGIT: Gilgit-Baltistan Chief Minister Mehdi Shah has blamed the PML-Q for the Attabad tragedy, saying that the party should be questioned for ignoring the issue when it first surfaced during its government.

The statement comes as the artificial lake in Attaabad area of Hunza submerges a huge portion of the strategic Karakorum Highway (KKH) and threatens several downstream villages. On April 4 a massive landslide had blocked the flow of the Hunza River, forming an artificial lake and submerging several villages and a huge portion of the KKH. At least 20 people were also killed in the tragedy. The artificial lake continues to expand, threatening several more downstream villages.

“The PML-Q should be questioned for the Attabad disaster which first surfaced in 2003 when the party was in power,” Chief Minister Shah said, adding that if the then government had taken steps on time, the tragedy could have been avoided. “We are in contact with the people of Hunza and Gojal,” he said, adding that nearby villages were not being evacuated. “It is too early to evacuate people from these villages,” he added. “They will be shifted to safe places only if it becomes necessary.”

The chief minister expressed satisfaction over the pace of relief activities in Gojal and Hunza Valley. “The situation is under control. People should not panic,” he said of the relief work at Attabad where the construction of a spillway is about to be completed. Chief Minister Shah said that they had adequate stock of medicines and ration to deal with an emergency-like situation. He once again ruled out the possibility of the lake suddenly bursting its banks. “Huge boulders buried under tons of mud will not let it happen,” he claimed.

Meanwhile a huge portion of the Karakoram Highway (KKH) near Gulmit Town was submerged on Wednesday after inflow of water increased in the Attabad artificial lake. FOCUS Pakistan, an agency of the Aga Khan Development Network, the Pakistan Army and the District Government are jointly monitoring the artificial lake on a daily basis. This according to a press release issued in Karachi on Wednesday. According to the monitoring team, the lake is now 320 feet deep and 17 kilomtres long.

Approximately 90 families of Ainabad and Shishkat villages have been displaced and hundreds of acres of agricultural land have been destroyed due to the lake. The lake has started submerging houses in Gulmit, the largest settlement and headquarters of Gojal tehsil, as the water level is rising fast. A family of six has been moved from this area to a safer location. This situation is also threatening more than 30 such families and other shops, small hotels, bank offices and other commercial offices in the area, which are expected to submerge in the lake in the next few weeks. A 20 kilometre long stretch of the Karakorum Highway between Gulmit, Ghulkin and Hussaini villages is also in danger of being submerged.

Modern electric sirens have been installed at potentially vulnerable locations in Hunza, Nagar and Gilgit district to immediately inform the local communities of any flooding risk caused by the overtopping of the lake. In some villages, megaphones have been distributed for early warning purposes. To assist the local population, all vulnerable areas of district Hunza, Nagar and Gilgit have been marked as red and green zones according to their respective levels of vulnerability.

Green zones are relatively safe locations at 60 metres above the river bed, as proposed by experts. Community stockpiles comprising tents, tarpaulins, blankets and other necessary items have also been established in safe havens by FOCUS Pakistan, to enable the communities to survive in an emergency situation. source

Published in the Express Tribune, May 13th, 2010.

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