Negligence root cause of Attabad Lake disaster: experts

By Obaidur AbbasiJune 10, 2010

As the Attabad Lake situation is being monitored closely, people affected by the disaster want to know who is responsible for the situation deteriorating to this extent.

As many as four villages have come under water and 36 have been declared by the government as threatened in case the lake bursts. Over 1,000 people from the area have gained the status of internally displaced persons (IDP). The rising water level is flooding cropland terraces covered with fruit trees and forestry, known for producing high quality apricots, cherries and honey, some of which is exported, and which provided the livelihood of families in disaster-affected villages. A cycle of economic difficulty is being perpetuated as the emergency pushes up the prices of essential food items.

In May, lake affectees had threatened to commit suicide if the government did not announce adequate compensation. Ghulam Ali, a resident of the Hunza Valley, said that they never been forced out of their homes prior to this disaster “which has not only stolen our livelihoods but is also threatening our lives’’. He concluded that if action had been taken when villagers had first brought the situation to the attention of the authorities this crisis would not have been created. The displaced residents of Hunza are also criticising the government for the delay in rescue operations.

In July 2004, Hunza residents had drawn the attention of local authorities towards the crack in the slope in Attabad village. The crack, of about one and a half feet, was thought to have been caused by the 2002 earthquake in the then Northern Areas. The authorities failed to study the situation and nothing was done to avert a disaster.

An adviser on energy and environment, Arshad Hussain Abbasi, who had visited the site in 2004, said “It was clear that if no remedial measures were taken this huge chunk of mountainside would one day slide into the Hunza River creating havoc for the people.” And this is exactly what happened on the fourth of January this year.

Even after the landslide lake was created, appropriate measures were not taken, said engineer Muhammad Musharraf Khan. He had told the authorities that blasting a tunnel into the mountain was the only quick solution. “The issue was not tackled seriously and professionally from the beginning,’’ said Khan, adding, “They should have taken the expert opinion of Chinese engineers without any delay who had handled a similar lake in 2008. The lake was created by the Sichuan earthquake.”

Chinese army engineers blasted boulders and other obstructions in the channel and emptied the lake, said Khan.

Meanwhile, DG Disaster Control Management Lieutenant-General (retired) Nadeem Ahmed and other officers in Gilgit Baltistan’s management categorically refuted the allegations that the response was lethargic. “Everything was carried out in accordance to standard procedure and as according to the reports of the four top companies which deal with such issues,” said Ahmed.

A senior advocate from Gilgit, Shafqat Nabi, has demanded that a judicial probe be ordered to place responsibility on the state-run apparatus that neglected the situation till it became so unmanageable. “They did not bother to tackle the issue professionally; they just waited for a looming disaster,” he said.

The destruction can clearly be seen with small farmers having lost all their physical assets, including their homes, farms, orchards and grazing grounds for livestock, their sole sources of income. The great need of the moment, apart from managing the lake, is that flood-affected people be provided sufficient aid and facilities at the relief camps.

Published in the Express Tribune, June, 10th, 2010.

One Response to Negligence root cause of Attabad Lake disaster: experts

  1. Karim Alam says:

    I understand that the doubts in the minds of the people will not be cleared unless a High powered Judicial probe is initiated and fixing the criminal behavior or lethargic attitude of the concerned officials. As it is a matter of causing disruption to the strategic link between china and Pakistan, trade, property and lives of the thousands of people in these affected areas.

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