Mehreen Sultana (WWF P, Gilgit – Baltistan)
Qurumbar valley of Ghizer district located in the north western reaches of Gilgit-Baltistan presents a unique cultural and ecological biodiversity. The valley harbour a variety of natural resources such as rare wildlife species, water sources, high value medicinal plants, forests and pastures. The valley is now proposed to be declared as national Park to protect fragile mountain ecosystems and their biodiversity for the development of the area.
Back in 1998, WWF-Pakistan organized a Participatory Learning & Action (PLA) study in the Qurumbar Valley. Historically, the valley was isolated from adjoining areas due to lack of roads and other communication facilities. Gender inequalities, poverty, inadequate facilities of health and education defined the context of remote and marginalized community. The PLA study shows that, there were 4000 people living in 360 households.70% to 80% of the people were associated with agriculture and livestock for their subsistence, 10 to 15% wage labour and only 5 to 10% of them were working in Government and Non government organizations. The average monthly per capita income was Rs.1700 to 2800 (30-70$ per capita), far below the national average of 420$.Most of the families were unable to meet their expenses due to many dependants against single earner. Besides this, traditional method of cultivation, lack of fertilizer and good quality seeds, absence of transport facility, inaccessibility to market and lack of irrigation channels resulted in low yield. Heavy rain in 1984 and 1990 resulted flooding which completely destroyed the standing crops.
The PLA study shows the poor status of education; there were 13 schools in valley including 12 primary school and one middle school for boys. The primary schools included 4 government schools, 5 Aga Khan Education Service (AKESP) and 3 Social Action Programme (SAP). At primary level the enrollment of girls was only 30% against 70% boys whereas at middle level their enrollment was zero because a government middle school was only for boys. Higher education was not considered necessary for girls because they were not supposed to earning hand in society; this was reflected from the absence of secondary institution for girls in valley.
The PLA 1998 study reveals that, there were lacks of health facilities in the whole valley. People were treated by hakims using herbs and minerals and local women expert handle the maternity cases. Water borne diseases such as diarrhea, cholera, gastrointestinal problem and skin diseases were common among people. Besides this, asthma, eye problems, back pain and joint body pain were common diseases between women folk and men.
A variety of wildlife in the valley includes; ibex (Capra ibex), wolf (Canis lupus), snow leopard (Uncia uncia) and fox (Vulpes vulpes). According to PLA 1998, the number of ibex decreased from 1200 in 1970 to 110 in 1997, shows 80% hunting similarly, snow leopard decreased from 100 in 1970 to 50 in 1997, showing 10% hunting of this animal .Government took some initiatives to control on illegal hunting but due to lack of staff supervision, and unavailability of equipments for watch and ward mechanism, no success was achieved.
According to PLA 1998, women often carry a greater workload than men in agriculture sector. Despite of their participation in agriculture, they were excluded from ownership of land and other assets. Their mobility was restricted; they had little or no say in political, religious, civil society institutions and even at household level decision making. The most severe limitation was their constrained access to civic amenities and social sector services.
The high degree of difference between men and women was first observed by Aga Khan Rural Support Programme(AKRSP) in 1983.It was the first organization, which through its distinctive approach, mobilized the women by introducing the concept of women organization, as a mechanism to bolster the participation of women in development process. In 1984, they established Village Organizations (VOs) and Women Organizations (WOs) in Qurumbar valley to create financial assets through disciplined savings programmes, which was than linked to micro-credit services. Current socio economic survey shows that, there are 7061 people living in 810 houses, 22 VOs and 19 WOs successfully running under the umbrella of Qurumber Local Support Organization(QLSO) with saving amount of 39, 6950/- under developing saving account programme(QLSO,2011). Under this setup, they have trained farmers in modern agriculture techniques, provided quality seeds besides enabling them to market their products to earn high income. Now the average monthly Income of people has increased from Rs.2800 to 8,000 due to high production and effective marketing of cash crops after the construction of linked and metalled road.
Gender disparity, despite many recent improvements still persists, but to a much lesser degree than observed in the recent past for example, on the economic front, 15% of women now contribute to household income; more significant, there is an impressive number of women who now work as teachers, health workers, handicraft makers besides owning their businesses; their mobility and access to social services have now increased because of awareness, raised by AKRSP. Now 29% of women in valley actively participate in decision making at household level indicates women economic empowerment.
WWF-Pakistan started its intervention in Qurumber valley in 1998 through its “Integrated Conservation and Development Project (ICDP)”.Through this project; they enabled the communities to conserve natural resources for sustainable development of the valley, by giving them economic incentives such as trophy hunting. They further introduced alternate sources of income generation through ecotourism, marketing of medicinal plants, women made handicrafts, capacity building and institutional strengthening. WWF-Pakistan has played a lead role in conserving wildlife and birds, resulting in increase in number of ibex from 150 in 1997 to 1260, in 2010; the rate of increase is 86 ibex per year. The successful trophy hunting exercise, through organizing the community based platforms has turned the hunters into conservationists. The parameter of conservation success can be measured of the recent demands from the community end to declare the area as a National Park, Ramsar Site to further enhance the protection and conservation status of valley at national and international level.
Similarly; the most significant change is taking place in education sector, especially in access to secondary education by girls. Much of this improvement is believed to be result of greater investment of girls’ education by Aga Khan Education Service, Pakistan (AKESP). The number of primary level schools increased from 12 to 16 and middle level schools from 1 to 5. Now, girls acquire higher education after the establishment of intermediate college by Central Asian Project. At primary level the girl’s enrollment increased from 222 to 564 and boys 507 to 613.This shows that the enrolment of girls increased from 30% to 48%.Similarly, at secondary level, there are 37 boys against 100 girls again the enrollment of girls is high at college level with 13 girls and 7 boys. The teacher to student ratio is improving from 1:72 to 1:40.
Current socioeconomic study indicates that, Qurumber valley still lacks the health facilities because the newly established government dispensaries are ill-equipped with qualified staff and medicines. Aga Khan Health Service, Pakistan (AKHSP) is well equipped with modern instrument and well trained Lady Health Visitors (LHVs) who not only provide maternity services to women but also visit villages for children vaccination. People from far flung villages visited Immit to get health facilities .However, access to health facilities remains the major issues of women particularly in Bilhanz because this village is 15 Km away from Immit; as a result most of them still rely on traditional practices. Water borne diseases have been reduced as a result of access of people to clean drinking water. Water and Sanitation Extension Programme (WASEP) has played an instrumental rule in providing clean drinking water facility to majority of population. It still addresses environmental health issues by improving water supply and sanitation in Qurumbar valley. In order to cope with natural disaster, FOCUS Humanitarian Assistance trained people in disaster prevention and mitigation.Simliarly; Micro financing institutions including Karakuram Cooperative bank, Microfinance bank, Agriculture bank and local society providing short term credit to communities to fulfill agriculture and various domestic expanses.
The increasing income of people, agricultural development, women empowerment, improving health status and quality education in Qurumbar valley indicates that NGOs are real and positive social change agents, they have now emerged as a major player in development of the region particularly, in the fields of education, construction and women empowerment. At community level, they are in the front line in providing basic needs and amenities; in identifying issues, raising awareness, building capacity to mange the natural resources and in dealing with sustainable development concerns. They through hard work, dedication, commitment and networking made their mark in the field of socioeconomic development. Today, in Gilgit-Baltistan numerous NGOs are functioning in different sector like health, education, women development and child welfare. They serve as an active partner of Government and International agencies and their intervention will make the region economically strong and well developed.