Hands on in Hunza

Editorial June 18, 2010

People in Hunza have decided to ignore the authorities and take matters into their own hands. A few hundred people, joined by others from the Gojal area lying upstream of the lake formed in the Hunza River early this year, breached police barricades, entered the ‘red zone’ around the body of water and attempted on their own to broaden the spillway in an effort to drain the lake.

Poeple said they were forced into a perilous situation by the failure of authorities to tackle the disaster. Some of the IDPs who attempted to clear the lake narrated how they had remained in camps for over a month while the threat to their villages remained in place even now. Officials of the National Disaster Management Authority, against whom the protesters shouted slogans, have said the unsuccessful efforts to dig around the spillway could have triggered flash-floods and contributed to an extremely dangerous situation.

They may not be wrong in what they say, but beyond the technical aspects of managing a disaster which is unusual and in many ways unique, its human dimensions too need to be looked at. This is not the first time people have demonstrated their rage. Similar displays have come before, when the prime minister visited the stricken area a few weeks ago and on other occasions. It is obvious that public displeasure over the handling of the situation is intense. Reports continue to speak of inadequate facilities at camps for IDPs and of disquiet over a failure to involve people in decision-making. The immense damage caused to villages including Attabad, the site of the lake, leaves people wondering if they will ever be able to return home.

The authorities have assured people they will continue to be provided food in camps. But the IDPs have other needs too. They need to be treated with respect, taken into confidence about plans to manage the disaster and fully involved in the process of decision-making about their future.

Published in The Express Tribune, June 19th, 2010.


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