As part of the Provincially Administered Tribal Areas (Pata), Upper Dir has few regulations governing town planning or construction. Given its status as a tax-free zone, plenty make use of the opportunity to expand their presence and an endless construction boom is slowly turning a 125-year-old water channel into a sewage line.
If Muhammad Tariq, the resident historian of the area, is to be taken as somewhat of an authority on the region, the channel was constructed in 1890. Tariq, who lives in Rehankot, said the channel was carved out of Panjkora River and was the main source of potable water till 2001.
Over the last few decades, unabated construction without prior planning ended up in sewerage leading right into the water channel. And from the source comes the trouble.
Tariq told The Express Tribune people do not follow rules of construction which might apply to the rest of the province, considering jurisdictional issues stemming from its inclusion in Pata. “All public lavatories and gutter waste is dumped into the river.” Without building codes, environment laws and construction regulations, Tariq said the water channel which comes from Panjkora was slowly becoming a big hazardous drain. The local historian predicted an urban explosion in the area within the next decade.
Poison in your pipes
District Headquarters Hospital Surgeon Dr Muhammad Islam told The Express Tribune, “The water of the area is like poison.” According to Islam, “The increase in waterborne diseases has been manifold.”
With dirty water come sick children. Paediatrician Dr Nazarul Islam said a majority of those affected by the water were children. “Around 50% of diseases spread in the area can be cured if water pollution is curtailed,” he said. Even though the problem is as stinky as it is obvious, the government has not done much to stop the construction boom or help solve water woes, said locals.
Communication and Works Engineer Mukhtiar Hussain spoke of a district construction board but added a caveat – “hardly any action is ever taken by [the board]”. He said the reason behind the inaction was the lack of alternatives to disposing sewage.
“It’s not just private construction; even the government’s own building projects do not follow standard procedures.”
Tehsil Municipal Officer (TMO) Muhammad Naeem Shinwari confirmed there was a procedure to be followed but hardly anyone adhered to it. “A legal certificate has to be obtained for any sort of construction,” said Shinwari, “But since the area is a tax-free zone, nobody ever approaches the local government.”
Locals hope once the new local government departments become fully functional, these issues would be resolved. In the interim, the water channel continues to become more polluted and waterborne diseases continue to flourish in an environment perfect for the growth of bacteria.
Minister for Local Government Inayatullah Khan told The Express Tribune all those who were part of the illegal construction problem will be dealt with in accordance with the law – even the government. “Any violation of the local government law will not be tolerated.” he said, “Particularly when people are being harmed.”
Published in The Express Tribune, July 2nd, 2015.