“Many youngsters don’t want to go to the tent school as the teachers are not there,” said Ambreen. – Photo by Arif Shah/Dawn.com
On a recent trip to the Hunza Valley, this scribe came across an interesting protest by young students in Ahmedabad town. With placards in their hands, scores of school children were chanting slogans as they passed through the streets of main Ahmedabad Bazaar. They were demanding the local authorities to shift the Attabad IDPs from their school. We want our school back, the youngsters maintained.
Formed after a massive landslide in January 2010, the Attabad Lake in Hunza Valley continues to cause hardship to the locals, particularly the displaced families.
Unperturbed by the presence of keenly watching tourists in the serene and peaceful Hunza Valley, the children registered their protest in front of the Ismaili Community Office and later lodged a formal complaint at the District Coordination Office, Hunza.
“We are studying in a tent school for well over a year now. The local authorities have yet to shift the Attabad Lake affectees from the premises,” said Ambreen. A student of class 7 at the Diamond Jubilee School in Altit, she informed that other schools in the area faced a similar situation.
“Most schools in Altit are being used as shelter. But we students end up suffering too. We have to drink muddy water and study in tents that are really dirty,” she complained innocently.
“Many youngsters don’t want to go to the tent school as the teachers are not there. Then there is the sunlight and heat. Its makes us ill and at times many children have suffered a heat stroke,” she added.
The lake has affected thousands of people, many of whom had to relocate to other areas in Hunza Valley since their villages were submerged.
“The government must understand that this is not a small tragedy. All victims are not lucky to have relatives in other parts of the valley. Many of those housed in schools and makeshift shelters continue to live in a miserable state,” said Ikram Ali. He said that the absence of doctors in the affected area is also causing problems. “Neither can we leave our patients untreated nor can we afford to take them to hospitals in Lower Hunza,” said Ikram.
In the initial days of the crisis, ample media coverage hyped up the issue. As a result, the politicians and state officials were left with no other option but to rush to the scene. During their visits to Hunza, the prime minister and the army chief promised the area people that their concerns would be addressed on a priority basis. This gave some hope to the IDPs, who thought that they would be able to rebuild their lives.
However, once the media coverage subsided, official lethargy followed.
“Personally, I am not satisfied with the way things are going on,” said an official assigned with the task of the rehabilitation of Attabad IDPs. “We had pledged that the IDPs would be rehabilitated by May 2011, however, there is a remote possibility of it even now,” he added, requesting anonymity.
As a result of delay, hopes of the IDPs have thinned down slowly and gradually.
Food insecurity is another issue that is faced by the residents in Gojal regardless of them being displaced or not.
Soaring prices of commodities have made it difficult for the residents to buy even groceries.
“The prices of vegetables have increased a lot. Tomatoes which we bought earlier for Rs. 60 per kilogramme now cost us Rs200,” said Shahid Hunzai. In many places, a three-fold increase has been taken place in the prices of commodities, which has left people with no option but to shift to other areas.
Since the lake water is spread over an area of 32 kilometers, it has disconnected upper Hunza from central and lower parts of the valley. Locals have to use small boats to ferry around, which is not only costly but also risky.
“Earlier we used to pay Rs. 100 to travel from central Hunza to the upper parts of the valley, but now we cover the same distance by paying Rs. 1000,” said Shahid Hunzai. Growing inflation and dwindling local economy has fast turned the hopes of people into despair. “We cannot wait anymore,” said Aziz Jan, an IDP. “If the government was unable to settle the issue in time, it should have asked the Chinese government for help rather than sitting on the issue for so long,” he said curtly.
Courtesy DAWN NEWS