[Opinion] The cost of Gojal’s siege

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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.  
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.   
    1. 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..  
    2. 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.
    3. 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.
    4. 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.


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10 Responses to [Opinion] The cost of Gojal’s siege

  1. Ahmed din says:

    GR8 …………………..and fine ,the date of Disaster is 4th Jan 2010 not 2009 for your information plz don,t mind

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  3. Excellent summary of a very difficult and frustrating situation.

  4. Faisal says:

    the percentages are all wrong
    please check it again

  5. G.M.Shimshali says:

    Well written Shaju…. I agree with your views but some things you have missed up that are indispensable to note here. Though the disaster has added in the issue of the inhabitants but it has created many opportunities also. In every article we just listen about the issue but don’t propose any remedial solution that may help the policy makers to convert the issues into opportunities.
    Last year I conducted two studies in the disaster area of Gojal with both direct and indirect effected people and one of the component of both the studies( with same patter and methodology) were current and long term issues and suggested solution given by the community representatives. I want to add it here (though the situation is now slightly different but it will give you a picture that what people want and could be done for the people but not done).

    Note: the current issues and remedial solution given for it was designed for a short period of time that may not be effective now but the long term issue may work.
    It will also give you a picture that how effective and relevant thinking level our communities are having…may b our policy makers do not have.
    7: Current and long term issues
    7.1 current issue
    7.1.1: Temporary resettlement of IDPs

    Temporary resettlement of the IDPs is immediately needed; as the numbers of IDPs are increasing day by day but no arrangements have been made. The IDPs and expected IDPs do prefer a camp town or residence in the school or other government building with proper basic facilities like food items (relief), education, health and recreational activities.
    7.1.2: Agricultural activities

    As result of the disaster, agriculture is highly suffering. According to the farmers, for many years they have been practicing to grow potato in their lands that has lessened the fertility of the soil. Growing of cereal crops will not be productive through the conventional farming method. People have also shortage of seeds and fertilizers, as they remained dependent on chemical fertilizers in the past few years. To avoid insecurity of food, new techniques and improved varieties of seeds will be required. To urge them in this matter, improved and certified verities of seeds are required and new techniques should be introduced.
    Some of the IDPs, particularly from village Ayeenabad have mentioned that they have tons of potato seeds stored for this year but it is almost impossible to cultivate potato in the village. The villagers are of the view that the stored seeds should be transported to lower Hunza or preferably in upper Gojal, where demand for the seed is high. This would help the IDPs receive money and fulfill some of their basic needs. In this regard they need government’s help or any other party to market the available seed.
    7.1.3: Health

    Access to health facilities is deteriorating day by day due to shortage of resources and purchasing power. The IDPs demand for a medical camp attached with the tent village and an operation theater in the Tehsil headquarter. It would be helpful for them to deal the minor camps within the camp medical unit and serious case would get easily access to the headquarter hospital.
    7.1.4: Education

    Scholarships and stipend funds shall be produced for the students of displaced families, and primary academic facilities shall be organized at primary level, either in a tent station or somewhere else. And the most important point which has to be considered, is, students who are getting their education beyond their regional frameworks, they shall support, because due to their economic uncertainties and instabilities IDPs are completely unable to generate economic growth. If such steps are not taken immediately then the upcoming generation and youth would mould themselves in different unhealthy activities, and as well as child labor issues could emerge.
    7.1.5: Livestock

    Live stock is an integral part of the economy in the area and the IDPs are highly dependent on it in the future. During displacement, the IDPs face problem to transport their cattle along with its feeding requirements. The IDPs demand for the facilities of sheltering and transporting of their capital to the tent village.
    7.1.6: Compensation of KKH

    The entire IDPs want the government to pay the compensation of KKH on priority basis. The IDPs are afraid that village Ayeenabad will be completely under water in a couple of weeks and they could not be able to receive compensation committed by NHA. They consider it one of the major issues and they are keen to access it in these days. They consider it as a major source to release their financial burden in their crucial time, if found the compensation.
    7.1.7: Low purchasing power

    Only the submerging households have access to relief but people who’s’ land came under water. While other people are suffering regarding food shortage and low purchasing power but they have not been taken into account. Some of the sound economic backgrounds holding families are also suffering from food shortage due to having less amount of storage. Therefore, detail house to house survey of the entire population is required to be conduct regarding dissemination of relief. Poor and ultra poor families can not afford their need due to increased prices of commodities and transportation. For example, within the jurisdiction of the village at a radius of 10-15 kms, transportation cost has increased by 400%. Therefore, along with relief, other expenses (education, health transportation) are required to be provided by government to the people.
    7.1.8: Annual examination

    The victims of the disaster demand for rescheduling of annual examination of the IDP students on priority basis, because the children are frustrated and couldn’t concentrate since last three months
    7.2: Long-term issues

    Though this study focuses the current situation of the affected areas but some issue expected in the future are also highlighted the victims and key designates of social setups. The long term issues are consist of the issue expected to be faced in the entire area, including the targeted villages. The participants of the FDGs have suggested some tentative solutions for these problems, which have been plugged-in in the study.
    7.2.1: Tourism

    Tourism is one of the major income sources for people of the entire Tehsil, the road blockage will be the reason for decline in tourist-flow in the area. Therefore, it is suggested that flow of tourism via China rout should be diverted. In addition, the restricted trekking zones should be opened.
    7.2.2: Trophy Hunting

    Trophy hunting is rising as the prime source of income for several villages in upper Gojal. The community demands to increase the quota for Gojal, which would prove helpful for them to access income earning opportunity.
    7.2.3: Rehabilitation

    Rehabilitation of the IDPs will be the core issue in the future, the key informants along with other interviewed people, emphasized that government should develop a strategy from now. The rehabilitation should be preferably in the shape of establishment of new village.
    7.2.4: Transportation

    For the next one year or more then that, the road is expected to remain blocked. It could create accessibility issue for the entire area to the wrest of the world. The government should develop an effective strategy to avoid socio-economic activities, like education, health business etc as a result of this problem.
    7.2.5: Development of submerged land in case of water release

    According to the informants, it is possible that a part of submerged land may recovered after realize of water from the lake. In such a case, help from government and NGOs would be required to redevelop the agricultural lands.
    7.2.6: Compensation of submerged land and houses

    Compensation of the submerged land and houses should be paid on time to the victims, in order to bring them in better-off position soon.
    7.2.7: Previous loan write-off and advancement of interest free loan

    The IDPs will be not in the position to reimburse the previous taken loan from private and government banks. Therefore, they have demand/appealed from the banks to write-off their previous loans. It may help them to reduce their frustration and soon recovery of their economic position.

  6. Qizill says:

    my dear fellows govt is completely failed to resolve the problems i request to all hunzai who are the silent viewers of this drama come out from their shelters and demand to resign Mr Wazeer Baig and the culprits of PPP and NGOs must realize the ground realities …… student IDPs drop their education and other prblems r arose as well …..

  7. Darjat says:

    Its a good analysis and comparision of pre and post Attaabad traval costs. Surely, cost of essential items including travel and food item costs has gone up … up to 200% travel cost as mentioned by Shujahat. I did check some of the percentages which are correct. Faisal: I wounder, how you would like to calculate the percentage change?
    It requires revisiting the belief and practices in managing this very vital issue!

  8. Safder Ali Islamabad says:

    Excellently expressed your observations & experiences. The so called Political Govt. is fully responsible for the current situation of Gojal Valley. We must realize that the Attabad Lake is now a battle ground of the Global powers. i.e USA & the West against China. The people setting in the power corridors of Pakistan (Politicians, Bureaucracy & Army) are playing in the hands of American Intelligence and other think tanks. Lets not forget the Taliban minded leaders/Mullah’s of Pakistan in general and Gilgit Baltistan in particular, who were waiting for any chance to stop the development of the people of Hunza Gojal. All the delaying tactics, displayed by the FWO and other Govt bodies are deliberate and intentional. In past we have organized protests in all cities of Pakistan, try to work out the media campaign, but of no result. So this is the time to come forward, do some thing practical. I think we should fully block the trade with the China , until the Govt. practically handover the spillway project to Chinese company with a clear deadline. Otherwise we have to wait and push our people back to the 1960’s badly damaged ethical and economical society. Because the Govt will not through the road link for next three years at least.

  9. Shujaat Ali says:

    Thank you for your appreciation and feed back. I value your point of view.

    It was not possible for me to highlight the sufferings of the people of Gojal as a whole. It requires a comprehensive and detailed impact study. Analysing the cost of Gojal’s siege in context of Shimshal valley was just to give a brief insight about the hardships being faced after Hunza disaster. It may be a micro level analysis but provides foundation for macro level study. By taking example of a village which is not directly affected by the Attabad lake gives us a clear picture of the sufferings at fore flung areas. One can easily judge the level of damages and hardships as a whole by glancing through this write-up.

    Thank you Mussa for elaborating the present challenges and remedial measures. Your expert inputs are highly appreciated. Thank you uncle Darjat and Safder for giving your point of view on the said subject.

    We all are concerned about the ongoing challenges/problems being faced by a population of more then twenty five thousand people and think how long will it last and who will come forward to make a real change. This is a point which itself is a question mark as yet! I agree that our public representatives and concerned authorities are not delivering what we expect from them. Lets learn a lesson from it.

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