Urgent action needed on Hunza lake

Published: May 13, 2010

There is no good time for disasters but these are particularly worst times to have one. Pakistan’s biggest ever river-water blockage was created by a landslide on January 4 on the Hunza River. The Hunza is a tributary of the Indus which in turn is a lifeline of our country’s power and irrigation systems. The landslide caused a lake and that is increasing with the passage of everyday and it has the potential to do immense damage, should the lake breach its banks.

Already, water from the lake has inundated acres of irrigated land, orchards and meadows, left many homeless and threatened food supplies to over 25,000 people along the Chinese border. The lake is now over 18 kilometres long and 320 feet deep and has blocked a portion of the Karakoram Highway and its longest bridge.

The Frontier Works Organisation with help from Chinese engineers has managed to build a spillway but this has only partially helped. The reason is that the water level is rising fast with the advent of summer which increases the flow in the river because of the melting of the mountain snows.

The Wakhi speaking people of Gojal, who have been virtually cut-off from the rest of Pakistan for the last four months, have for years shared their pastures and the Silk Route (Karakoram Highway) with the people of lower Hunza. Today, they share a calamity. For the first time there is no road connection between the Wakhi speaking of Gojal and the Wakhi-speaking people of lower Hunza. This means taking a boat and paying a hefty amount as a fee.

The Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN) and an NGO by the name of Focus Pakistan have been doing their best to help as well but they provide relief goods and related services and cannot build a spillway over a major river blockade. It is essentially the federal government’s job to do that and this needs to be done as soon as possible lest the situation get completely out of hand.

Clearly, the federal government needs to do more. It could seek technical help from friendly countries and send out emergency alerts to intentional agencies having the requisite expertise. The authorities need to focus on stabilising the debris, expediting work on spillways and also minimising potential risks downstream. Round the clock monitoring and a fool-proof, early warning mechanism are needed.

If the lake were to burst its banks, it could potentially damage several bridges on the KKH and cause a major setback to the region’s hard-earned development gains made over the years. In addition to this, one would like to remind the prime minister of his promise that he made during the recent Gilgit-Baltistan elections that Gilgit and Skardu airports would be upgraded to accommodate all-weather landing and that direct cargo flights to China’s neighbouring Xingiang province would also be started.

The writer is a development professional based in Islamabad (ismail.khan@tribune.com.pk)

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

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Reader Comments (9)

  • Aazur
    May 13, 2010 - 1:18AM

    It is truly disappointing to see sucha an ill informed piece from M. Ismail Khan. This writing seems more to be an attempt to divide Hunza on ethnic lines.

    For information of the learned “development activist”, Gojal is as much a home to Burushaski speaking as it is to Wakhi speaking people. Also, there is not even a single Wakhi speaker in lower Hunza.

    One wonders why a development professional looks at a society in distress through the ‘race’ and ‘ethnicity’ lens, instead of focusing the real issues.

    Truly disappointed Recommend

  • M. Ismail Khan
    May 13, 2010 - 10:52AM

    hello Aazur, …the piece is intended to highlight need for urgent action in helping people in Gojal and Hunza, and also potentially threatened villages downstream.

    .. and Hunza is surely one of the best examples of a coherent and harmonious society despite ethnic and cultural diversity within …Gojal, like many other parts of GB, has its own unique aspects.

    Yes, this is time to focus on the massive crises and finding means to help people out.Recommend

  • Jan Sher
    May 13, 2010 - 8:02PM

    AKDN has worked in Gilgit-Baltistan regardless of ethnic, religious, and linguistic differences of its inhabitants. The implication in the article that HH Prince Aga Khan and his development agencies are exclusively for the betterment of the Ismaili community is grossly exaggerated and this, in my opinion, amounts to subverting the truly philanthropic goals of AKDN institutions. Seemingly sympathetic but the underlying tones of the article are highly biased and smack of sectarianism. It looks like that the writer has to grind some ideological axes. Recommend

  • Naqsh Khan
    May 14, 2010 - 12:43AM

    One can not agree more with Jan Sher. AKDN’s role in development of Baltistan, Ismail’s home, is not hidden. If not for the efforts of AKRSP, Baltistan may still have been living with lesser livelihood options that it boosts today.

    Kashmir crisis is an excellent example of AKDN’s non – sectarian agenda. Four AKF choppers were deployed for six months in the region purely on humanitarian grounds. I wish AKF had done the same for people of Gojal, a hundred percent Ismaili region!Recommend

  • Kamal Hunzai
    May 14, 2010 - 4:08PM

    I know the writer and following his articles for a long time. He is above ethnic and sectarian lines. I remember reading an article by him title ‘A prince of Islamic world’ – which in my estimate is the most positive thing I ever read from writers in this country about HH.

    And I also read this same article with entirely different feeling in Dawn yesterday, so cannot believe he is grinding any axe such. To me he is the best and only writer that has come from GB in English press. Please take your sectarian glasses off…thanksRecommend

  • Arshad Alvi
    May 15, 2010 - 10:44AM

    I know of only one thing that we always talk of 160 millions of population of Pakistan, mostly this is used by the Politicians who contact us only for getting their votes. If the population is moved, one rupee donated by each of the Pakistani will collect 160 million rupees in one day for the affected people and area which brings us a lot of joy and tourism throughout the year.

    We won’t have to look around for any help from others. What all is required is that someone out of them takes a lead and moves the people to get together and relieve the agonies of our brothers in the affected area but unfortunately they are only busy ib their own affairs………Recommend

  • Arshad Alvi
    May 15, 2010 - 10:48AM

    I would earnestly request that we stop fighting on trivials and join hands to help our brothers…….. A rupee each will not make us poor but will definitely provide substantial relief to our brothers…….. Remember “Unity is STRENGTH”….Recommend

  • rehan
    May 15, 2010 - 12:46PM

    The calamity took place more than 4 months ago.It is ALL there for us to see how much interest the media/press took in giving us regular updates on the making of this disaster(though i agree it won’t be as catastrophic as being projected,inshAllah,as I fly there very often).The nation is more interested in the marriage of Sania and Shoaib.The media reports “ijtemaey duas” being offered in Jumma prayers for our bunch of retards in the Caribean Islands.Hamesh Khan has sprinkled in his own spice into our Masala Broth.Our innocent and poor masses very earnestly lend their ears to sooper dooper claims/promises by individuals in starched clothes and ties.So let some solace be provided to the people of Hunza by the higher ups by announcing that some(if not all)of the money launderd by Hamesh will be given to them.NAB/Supreme Court please hurry up.Recommend

  • sakhunzai
    May 18, 2010 - 6:27PM

    what the hell you people[Aazur,Jan Sher..] are talking about ? This is not time to resolve ethnic diversity issues. I don’t know what is rolling in you head , I don’t see any sort of biased comments either. We should be talking about how effectively we can use our volunteer services side-by-side with Govt. agencies instead of complaining here and there. We know as matter of fact , how professional our Govt. is. Therefore, we should be doing our own homework to manage and mitigate fallout of the dam. By the way great article Mr. Ismail Recommend

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