Though scenic northern regions are freezing under heavy snow, its residents have something to cheer about: Lowari Tunnel, which connects Chitral district with the rest of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, is open for traffic.
It’s the first time this year that Lowari Tunnel remained open throughout the harsh winter.
The 8.75 kilometres long tunnel, which is still under construction, was built to reduce the distance between Dir and Chitral districts and ease movement of traffic to and from the valley throughout the year.
More than 150 small and big vehicles use the tunnel every day. “We’ve snow clearing machinery working 24 hours to ensure smooth flow of traffic and proper security arrangements,” said Army Lieutenant Aftab, security in charge at the tunnel.
Before the tunnel was constructed, people of Chitral had to make detours into Afghanistan while travelling to or from Peshawar, the provincial capital because Lowari top, the only land connection available then, remained closed for six months in winter.
“Though the air route was there, but it was not reliable and affordable for the poor people. Consequently, we used to remain stranded for six months in Chitral,” said Bilal Muhammad, a resident of the Ayun area in Chitral recalling the ordeal of Chitralis before the construction of Loweri Tunnel.
“We were not able to use fresh vegetables and other food items. Well-off people used to stockpile food items but for poor communities it was not possible,” he added.
“Our patients did not survive due to unavailability of medical facilities and the time when our people had to spend months in hotels at Dir and Peshawar,” said Noor Ajab, a resident of Chitral valley.
“Our daily life was severely disrupted. We remained stranded on either side of the tunnel for at least six months and faced multiple problems such as shortage of food and medicine,” Mohammad Alim, a resident of Chitral, who was passing through the tunnel, told The Express Tribune.
Even though the tunnel remains open for traffic, the South Korean construction company, SAMBU JV, has apparently stopped further work on the project.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 22nd, 2012.