By Shujaat Ali
In the month of April 2011, I visited my home town Shimshal after a long time. It was a good time to meet people and know about their sufferings and expectations. Interaction with the elders was of utmost importance for me as I have had a chance to know their present state of mind and future aspirations. Majority of people were questioning about the subject of this write up. For instance, how long the Attabad Lake will last, how long our great friend China will provide us relief goods, how long we will pay such high transportation charges and many more alike questions were raised before me. Honestly speaking I was not in a position to give any concrete answer as I was uncertain about the upcoming circumstances after looking at the ground realities.
Most of you are well aware that people of Shimshal used to travel by foot from Passu to Shimshal before 2003. After continuous struggle of eighteen years (from 1985 to 2003), it become possible to link Shimshal with rest of the world through a non metallic jeep able road. People of Shimshal were in distress before completion of road. They had to travel three days by foot onRocky Mountainsand cross rivers several times to reach Passu, the nearby village. In short, Shimshal is 52 Km far from the mainKarakorum Highway. Population of Shimshal consists of 213 households with an average population of 1800. Agriculture, livestock and tourism are the main sources of earning of the local community.
Area wise Shimshal is the largest villageof Hunza Valley. Being a far-flung village, the sufferings again started soon after formation of Attabad Lake on 4th January 2010. It is self evident that Attabad Lake created a lot of troubles for the people of Gojal. In this write up we have tried to highlight some of the key sufferings in context of Shimshali people. There is a long list of hardships being faced by the local community but for brevity purpose, we are describing a few of them. Here are some major hardships that are being faced by the people of Shimshal after formation of Attabad Lake.
- Increase in Travel Cost: In order to analyze the transportation problem after formation of theAttabadLake, we collected some basic information about the changes in travel fair. Surprisingly Shimshal is the only village in Gojal where government fixed rates does not apply. The below self explanatory table shows abrupt changes in travel expenses after the natural calamity.
- Changes in Prices of Food and Non Food Items: There are various socio-economic factors that affect prices of food and non food items. It has become quite difficult for the people of Gojal to meet their daily needs on time. The buyers have observed gradual increase in the prices of food and non-food items where purchasing power has either decreased or stand still. It is evident that people with less purchasing power hardly managed to meet basic necessities of life.
- Decrease in Routine Travel: People of Shimshal are used to travel more. There may be various reasons for this common trend. It was observed that due to hardships of traveling and increase in fare there is gradual decline in routine travel. One reason may be that most of relief goods provided by our neighboring country China helped people a lot in meeting their basic amenities of life at their door steps so people decreased traveling downstream.
- Accessibility Problems: Accessibility, availability and affordability of food and non food items are becoming a big challenge these days for the entire population of Gojal. No doubt the relief good provided byChinahelped a lot in short term but in long term the discontinuation ofChinarelief, the people will again suffer. We should not rely on aid only because it will be helpful in short term only.
- Access to health facilities is a big hurdle for the people of Shimshal. There is only a small dispensary with a small number of medicines available there. The locally recruited staffs are serving the people since long but due to lack of basic facilities in the said dispensary people are suffering a lot.
- Access to education is another big hurdle. Most of students leave Shimshal after completion of eighth class for further studies in Gulmit, Sot, Hunza, Gilgit,Islamabad,LahoreandKarachi. The students have to suffer a lot while going home on leave or leaving home for studies in other areas.
- Impact on Tourism: The majestic icy mountains, gigantic passes, picturesque glaciers, lush green landscape and rich cultural heritage of Shimshal are main fascinations for tourists. Tourism is a major source of income for the people of Shimshal but soon after Attabad Lake local and foreign tourists are now travelling rarely. As a result those who were dependent on tourism are suffering. Mountain guides, cooks, porters, transporters, hotel owners and shop keepers do not get enough earning from tourism sector now.
- Impact on Agricultural Products: Timely acquisition of fertilizers and seeds for agriculture products are important factors for better income generation. Potato was a major cash crop but it is now produced in a lesser quantity due to delivery problems. Timely delivery of potato is not possible at this point of time. Besides this fertilizers and seeds are either not available in a sufficient quantity or available at a higher rates..
- Impact on Live Stock and Dairy Products: It is clear that demand is comprised of willingness to buy and purchasing power also. Both complement each other and absence of one or both make demand incomplete. The yak meat of Shimshal is liked by majority of people downstream. Every year people of Shimshal sell yaks downstream to earn a huge amount of money. It is worth mentioning here that one yak can easily generate sixty to sixty five thousand rupees. Soon after this disaster the demand for yak meat declined due to transportation issues which make it costly.
- PurksharekhBridge: Hardships of traveling on Shimshal road hasn’t yet come to an end. Without mentioning the notorious Purksharek Bridge the aim of this impact study will remain incomplete. Those who have traveled to Shimshal may better know about this bridge which was constructed three times by NAPWD but all in vain. A huge amount of money was spent on its construction but due to poor planning the speedy water flow from the main stream always destroys the bridge and people have to cross the river by foot. In summer the local community has to suffer a lot at this place.
- Present realities and future aspirations
The ongoing challenges will continue until and unless some concrete arrangement are not made to overcome from these problems. Honestly speaking the entire population of Gojal has suffered a lot and still suffering from the impacts of this huge disaster. The geo strategic importance of Gojal area can not ignored anymore.Karakorum Highwaymay again become communication link between Sino-Pak. Lets go shoulder to shoulder and start the process of change.