The Hunza River was dammed in a matter of few hours, after a major portion of Attabad village slid down and filled the valley with millions of cubic tones of stones and sand. 19 people were killed and several others injured. It was the worst tragedy of Hunza’s known history. Never before had such a large number of people in Hunza Valley died on a single day, in a single incident.
It is ironic however, that exactly one year after the tragedy some IDPs are heard saying that those who died on January 4, 2010 as a result of the landslide were lucky to not face the miseries encountered by those who survived. Life for the ones who survived from the fatal landslide has been an uncertain affair, dangling between despair and dissent. That too despite of the support by the federal and GB governments, the civil society, for sometime the media, and different NGOs!
At core of the dissent are the government and other stakeholders’ inabilities to speed up the process of monetary compensation. A package of 31 Crore rupees announced by Islamabad for rehabilitation of the lake affectees remains undistributed, due to lack of a compensation formula. The bureaucracy and political leaders have failed to reach on a formula despite of spending thousands of men-hours in meetings and consultations. They fail to realize that the delay comes at a huge human cost, involving prolonged and increased sufferings for the 141 families housed in classrooms at Altit and around 250 more staying with host families in the Gojal Valley.
The displaced people of Attabad and Sarat have been living in classrooms of three schools at the historical Altit village in Central Hunza. At least 83 families have migrated from the Ayeenabad and Shishkat villages to different parts of Central Hunza and are living in rented houses or with host families.
Several of the the difficulties being faced by the IDPs households are also shared by the entire population of Gojal Valley. The blockade of Karakuram Highway has inflicted heavy damages on the economy, culture and society of Gojal Valley. It is as if the valley has retrograded to the stone-age.
Blockade of the road resulted in complete isolation of the entire valley. The introduction of boat service was hailed by the local communities and helped the commuters a lot during the summer and autumn. However, with the advent of winter and the temperature drop, the boats started their operations, unable to move due to freezing of the lake water.
The entire population of Gojal Valley is without a single doctor. The rusty bureaucracy and nonassertive political leadership have failed to provide the most basic human need to the disaster hit people.
The entire village of Ayeenabad, half of Shishkat, a major part of Gulmit and some low laying areas of Ghulkin and Hussaini have been under water for one year. Large swathes of agricultural land may never be recovered and there is no strategic livelihood initiative, still, in place. The hope for long term revival of the economy of the affected area continues to be a major long term challenge.
An important aspect of the Gojal Lake tragedy is the quantum increase in economic, cultural and social vulnerability of the traditional musician tribe living in the devastated Shishkat Village. Almost all families of the musician tribe (locally known as Beris or Doom) have lost houses and landholdings during the disaster. The government and other related agencies need to take special care of the people of this tribe because they are custodians of a unique and highly endangered language. They are also the custodians of a rich musical tradition spanning over centuries of human experience. Their prosperity or sufferings mean a lot for the culture of Hunza Valley, in general, and Gojal Valley in particular.
The government has also not been able to fully complete its promise of providing support for the affected students. A sum of 10 million rupees has been distributed in the disaster hit Gojal Valley, reducing financial difficulties of hundreds of parents. However, the need is way higher than what has been provided. Some NGOs have also provided scholarships to several affected students, enabling them to continue their education.
Thousands of tons of food and non-food relief items have been provided to the affected people, successfully reducing short and medium term food insecurity. Some critics, however, opine that the ‘relief flood’ has also made the people more dependent on aid, instead of increasing their resilience. There are also reports and complaints about irregularities in distribution and usage of the relief items, especially the fuel items provided by the Chinese government.
The recent agreement between premierof China and Yousuf Raza Gillani of Pakistan has heralded a ray of hope for the calamity hit people. The two leaders agreed to allocate more financial and human resources for drainage of the landslide triggered lake. They also agreed to realign the Karakuram Highway and revive the severed land route between their two countries. If the agreed 30 meter reduction height of the lake barrier is achieved, the situation may change significantly in favor of the impoverished and besieged people.
Drainage of the lake and distribution of the 31 crore rehabilitation funds among the affected people are important unfinished tasks that can put the valley back on the development track.