The natural forces like the rock falls, the harsh winter cold, the ice and the strong gale like wind, which have been even uprooting and breaking trees for centuries, never annoyed the people of Gojal in the past as they had been providing the people with opportunities to successfully adjust their routines. However, since last year, these forces managed to forge alliance whereby they were successful in putting the people under extreme, socio-economic and psychological pressure. The people are distressed, yet they are bravely fighting the challenge for their survival. The government made many promises and the people have been looking forward to see these promises fulfilled.
It is more than a year when a disaster hard hit the Ataabad village as a result of rock sliding, the river was blocked and a huge lake formed in the lower parts of Gojal (upper Hunza), the plight of the people has not lessened. The people received relief goods from government of China, WFP and from different NGOs including the AKDN institutions with the help of Pak Army. The 25,000 people of the area are still facing extremely difficult situation as they are literally stranded despite of the ‘relief work’. Last winter when the lake was raising its level, the people had relatively less difficulties in travelling. They still had roads available that were connecting different villages with expensive transportation facilities as the fuel price was many times higher due to the blockade. The small pieces of land were gradually going under water; the lake did not freeze as the raising level did not let it freeze. However, this year the surface of the lake maintained its level and became frozen. The people became literally stranded in the enclosed valley of Gojal. Few people risked their lives especially, for the sake of education and treatment and continued to travel in boats and by breaking the ice. This was extremely dangerous errand, as there were no choices before the people. Even fewer people got opportunities to get the rarely available helicopter service. However, this service too is not possible at times when the wind blows hard, the helicopter flight cannot sustain the hard push of the wind. Therefore, the service is suspended. Resultantly, the winter cold, frozen lake and hard wind have virtually halted the life to standstill till a couple of days back.
Now, the spring hard winds which even break and pull down trees have started between the sunk village Ayeenabad and Passu for almost 20 kilometers. The hard wind will blow till mid April, thus making the mobility of people both through sailing the lake and through rare helicopter service extremely difficult. The boat service has been suspended by the order of local administration to avoid any accident and casualties. The social life has been greatly disturbed as people are no more in contact with each other. Important occasions such as marriage, funeral and other ceremonies and rituals which used to bring people together, now find it difficult to bring them together on such important occasions. Just last week three people died in the area: two in Gulmit and one in Passu. The family members and relatives of the deceased who were for different reasons in Gilgit and other parts of Pakistan despite attempting to go to attend the funeral and to condole, confronted with severe difficulties as the ice and wind made the travel very difficult. Even people from Shishket, a village which lies at the exact opposite side of Gulmit, were unable to cross the lake to condole with their close relatives and family members.
The government gave different deadlines for the release of water from the lake, which was not materialized. The Frontier Works Organization (FWO) continued to work on the site but little change was brought in the level of water. On the basis of the pace of work the people of the area are gloomy as they are about to embrace another spring season which is not very confident to give the people the hope that they will harvest good crops on the leftover pieces of land and the trees will produce healthy fruit. Similarly, government announced that it will bear the educational expenses of the affected people for one year. Therefore, applications were invited on the prescribed format. Around 7,500 duly verified applications from the affected students were submitted, but only ten million rupees were released, which was even not sufficient for 25,000 students, as these applicants were only paid six months fee contrary to government’s pledges. While still five thousand applicants are facing very difficult situation as their economies have collapsed and their parents have no choice but to force their children out from better learning opportunities or stopping their children from education altogether. The serious concern of people is not relief, they don’t want to remain dependent on relief goods as they are not replacement for the economic, social, emotional and psychological and educational loss of the people. That is why the people are worried about their education, their social and economic activities, which are badly affected. Last year’s crops and fruit damage (as the fruit and crops became rotten or remained unripe) most probably because of the effect of the lake, have made the people concerned.
A significant number of the farmland and trees went under water, the remaining parts failed to produce crops and fruit, which the soil was capable of. The people raised their voice and concerns about the snail pace work by the FWO that is still under way to open the blocked, but the government machinery including the elected representatives gave the impression that “all is well”. One government official expressed his displeasure on the January 4 protest this year and said that “why are the people crying when the people of Shishket, one of the badly affected villages, are happy?”.
It was only yesterday, when the Speaker of Gilgit-Baltistan Legislative Assembly, who is also an elected representative by the people from the same area, expressed the inability of the government to provide doctors for stranded people as is reported by a local newspaper. In such helplessness of the government the people of Gojal express their sincere commiseration with the “truly empowered govt. of the area” and are waiting for some miracle to firstname.lastname@example.org
Originally published by Frontier Post