The weather forecast is not good. Reading across a basket of predictive meteorological websites, there is further heavy rain forecast for the northern parts of the country on April 12-13 and an even heavier spell between April 16 and 21. This data is available to anybody with an internet connection, and will have been seen by those who are responsible for administering Gilgit-Baltistan and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P), the worst-affected areas during the last fortnight when rain lashed the region. A slow-motion disaster has unfolded as successive bouts of rain falling on already waterlogged critical slopes became land-slips, engulfing entire communities as at Otha Nala in Kohistan, which was declared a communal grave for 23 villagers who were overwhelmed by a slide. Mountainous areas such as this have a strong sense of community and are interdependent, and the residents of Komila in Kohistan collected Rs60,000 and went to Othar Nala to support the families of those that died.
The scale of this unfolding disaster has in many places simply overwhelmed the local administration, and stretched available resources far beyond their designed limits. In K-P, government efforts have fallen short, compounding the misery brought by the weather. In Gilgit-Baltistan, the administration and local people have pooled resources as in Nagar, north of Gilgit, to clear and reopen the Karakoram Highway (KKH). With the advance of global warming and the effects of the El Nino phenomenon, the tragedy unfolding in Gilgit-Baltistan can only be set to be repeated. The KKH is a vital part of our development infrastructure and closely linked to the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. It has been upgraded by the Chinese from Khunjerab Top as far south as Raikot Bridge, below which it remains extremely vulnerable. New dams are going to mean a rerouting of the KKH between Chilas and Dassu/Komila, which should lessen vulnerability to extreme weather events but there will be no quick fix to the predicament presented by the weather.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 12th, 2016.
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