GILGIT: Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani on Friday assured the people that with the support of the federal and local Gilgit- Baltistan government, affectees would overcome the Hunza valley disaster.
The prime minister further said that the Attabad Lake disaster reminded him of the struggle Pakistan had to overcome during Partition, when it had to face a mass influx of refugees. Arriving from Attabad, where he conducted an aerial visit of the now 19-kilometre long artificial lake that was formed after a massive landslide in January, he visited the over 13,000 displaced people who were evacuated from neighbouring towns for fear of an impending flash flood.
He announced Rs100,000 as compensation for each household that was submerged in Shishkat and Ayeenabad upstream, due to the lake’s expansion, adding that compensation will be paid after the completion of a detailed assessment which the local government is conducting. The issue of writing off agricultural loans in the area would also be included in the package and the Diamer-Bhasha Dam affectees who had not been paid compensation would be reimbursed soon, said the premier.
Gilani further expressed confidence that the federal government will develop a strategy to regenerate economic activities to assist locals with employment opportunities. He also appealed to non-governmental organisations and the local government to immediately address the issue. Work on the reconstruction of the 22-kilometre long submerged patch of the Karakoram Highway will also begin on a priority basis, added Gilani. During his visit, the prime minister inaugurated the Benazir langar at the Hunza Nagar relief camps for displaced people.
He was accompanied by Federal Minister for Kashmir Affairs and Gilgit-Baltistan Mian Manzoor Ahmed Wattoo and Information Minister Qamar Zaman Kaira. Meanwhile, heavy contingents of police and other law enforcement agencies patrolled the roads and the helicopter service for IDPs was halted due to security preparations for the prime minister’s visit. However, despite Gilani’s assurances, his visit drew sharp criticism from opposition leaders who termed his VIP visit as a burden on the national budget. “He just wasted our resources and time.
He [Gilani] made no announcements but instead the relief work got disturbed due to the high profile security of his convoy,” said Mirza Hussain, a PML-Q parliamentarian outside the Gilgit-Baltistan assembly. He demanded a judicial inquiry into the Attabad Dam disaster, which he described as inflicting irreparable loss to the thousands of people in Gilgit- Baltistan. It’s all because of the government’s criminal negligence, he said. Hafizur Reham, the provincial PML-N chief voiced similar sentiments.
“I request that all these high profile personalities stay away from the area so that relief work doesn’t get disturbed.” Nevertheless, officials said that the service was resumed and four helicopters took part in rescue work for people who were unable to travel across the water by boat. The lake is now five feet short of overflowing the 30 metre spillway created by the military. The overflow could begin as early as May 25, said officials, as glacier melting has increased due to the hot and dry weather.
Published in the Express Tribune, May 22nd, 2010.
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