Hungry in the mountains: the trials of GB's flood survivors

The entire population in the high altitude valleys in the Gilgit-Baltitstan is vulnerable, unprotected this winter.

Jackie Dent November 27, 2010
In the summer months, Pakistan’s remote Gilgit Baltistan is busy with mountaineers climbing the world’s highest mountains.

Some head to K2, the second highest on earth, while others are off tackling Nanga Parbat or the Killer Mountain, a much-feared peak.  Other travelers explore legendary glaciers, meadows of rare flowers and old forts in a spectacular region that is home to the Himalayas, the Hindu Kush, the Pamir and the Karakoram ranges.

On the way to K2, mountaineers will drive through the little village of Youno. Draped by snow-speckled mountains, life is bucolic with bleating sheep meandering under tall green and gold trees as children play amongst houses made of large stones.

While on the surface travelers could see it as idyllic, the reality is far harsher. The people of Youno are disturbed about the coming winter, particularly after the August monsoon floods completely drowned their agricultural lands in grey mud and rocks, destroying crops and any hope of replanting.

As Muhammad Talib, a small-scale farmer and father to six children, explains it:
“This year, now that our fields and lands have been destroyed, we have no crop to sell. We don’t have any firewood as there aren’t many trees in this rocky terrain, and we don’t have any alternatives of firewood for example oil or gas that could us warm during winter time. Winter is going to be very difficult for us all.”

A tough winter

Local school-teacher Muhammad Askari, who shares his home with 15 people, is also concerned.
“To overcome our difficulties to survive, people mostly take loans from banks which they later repay by selling off their crops or cattle. We are very worried about life this winter.”

The people of Youno are not the only villagers facing the prospect of a tough winter - almost the entire population in the high altitude valleys in the Gilgit-Baltitstan area is vulnerable to heavy snows, extreme temperatures and cut off roads between January and March.

WFP has so far dispatched over 5,000 tons of food to the region, ensuring food security to an estimated 110,000 people affected by floods and now bracing for winter.

Arancho is a stone village from another age, reached by crossing rivers and driving along precarious dirt roads on the sides of mountain passes.  Families in Arancho live in two storey stone houses, with their livestock and food parked underneath, much of which was lost in the recent floods.

Haleema lives with a family of ten. “We face a lot of problems in winter because  there's always a shortage of food.  After the floods it's going to be even worse,” she says. “Sometimes the temperature goes down to minus 20 or even minus 30. When it gets very cold, we move down to the basement area where it’s warmer.”

With the winter coming, WFP will continue to deliver rations to the remote Arancho until snows completely cut off the village...
Jackie Dent A former journalist who has worked for Reuters, The Guardian, Monocle, The Sydney Morning Herald and the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. She has also worked as a public information for WFP in Afghanistan and for UNICEF in North Ossetia.
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