Notwithstanding trans-border priorities to drain the lake, the local administration lags behind in providing a clear option in terms of work programme and plans for rebuilding the road. Geologists have reservations about the safety of this part of the Hunza Valley in the long run. A recent study by FOCUS Humanitarian Assistance Pakistan suggests that the mountainside above the Attabad Lake remains vulnerable to another large landslide, potentially brought on by an earthquake or even something as simple as rock-blasting required for the reconstruction work on the Karakoram Highway.
In response, an agreement was recently made between the Islamabad government and a Chinese construction company to include a six-kilometre tunnel to penetrate the hazardous site. However, this will only be possible after the lake’s water level is lowered by around 100 feet. The engineering work to lower the water level has been tardy, however, with only 30 percent of the target achieved so far as the national government struggles with competing budgetary demands arising from climate related floods in the south of Pakistan for two successive years. Meanwhile, local communities on the other side of the lake are suffering, while border-trade and tourism-related business remains at a near-standstill.
Currently, the future of the affected families remains unclear, as local government communications are vague. Compensation money provided in small irregular instalments impedes long-term planning of family lives. With the recent police crackdown on demonstrators in Hunza, locals’ hope of reclaiming their land from the lake is dwindling. As such, many have already started to move out of the relief camps in search of alternate livelihoods, and a profound and unplanned shift is underway in the populace of the once-prosperous region of Gojal.
No matter what the operational difficulties of managing the Attabad Lake disaster in a landscape prone to such events, for the sake of local communities as well as in the larger geopolitical perspective, the Karakoram Highway must be cleared and traffic made to flow once again. This is a link, after all, with much future significance for China and Pakistan. There are a number of influences that will impact the future of the Attabad Lake, each operating at different scales and with differing stakes, including the local community concerns for reclaiming submerged homes and lands, the government’s technical and financial challenges of road reconstruction, and longer-term transboundary economic interests with China. It is these push and pull factors that are shaping the societal response to the natural disaster in Hunza.