The bridge to peril: A case from District Hunza in Gilgit-Baltistan
By Nadia Ali
Home to around one hundred and seven households, Hussaini is a small but beautiful village along Hunza River, surrounded by tall, robust mountains in the valley of Gojal in Upper Hunza. One of the most striking things about this breath-taking village is the foot bridge that welcomes one on the way.
This bridge is made up of small wooden planks about six feet long, tied together with a strong rope. In many places along the way, the wooden planks are missing and the rope is falling apart. The distance between each of these planks is of four inch and the metal cables extending from the ends of this bridge connect it to the posts (only source of support) dug deeply on the high sturdy mountains.
Women, men, children and older people – all, accompanied by their cattle, food or wood, pass this bridge by putting their lives in danger every day to reach Zarabad on the other side of Hunza river. Zarabad, which drives its roots from the Urdu word Zar signifying ornaments or jewels, is an agricultural land where most of the villagers hailing from Hussaini, own lands and pastures. Below the bridge flows the River Hunza- a tributary of Indus River System, ferociously with its full might. The only sideways that support people crossing this bridge are ropes, connected from one end to another, a little above the sides of the planks.
This bridge of peril is about eight hundred feet long and one should always be fearful while crossing it because when strong winds blow and hit, it swings uncontrollably from side to side. A few months earlier, a 75 year-old woman named Bibi Khunzoik passed away by slipping through the planks into the deep waters below. It is believed that Bibi Khunzoik lost her life because she couldn’t hold the ropes tightly enough.
Nevertheless, this bridge has its own importance; it is the only way of transporting water to the villagers. A pipeline extending from the other side of the village, which is placed on the bridge, brings water to the homes of Hussaini, as its original water supply from the Hussaini glacier was destroyed during 2010 land sliding which resulted into emergence of the famous Atta bad Lake. During then, under the Chief Minister’s special package announced for the early rehabilitation of Upper Hunza, Gojal, around 10 Million Rupees were given to various organisations to build bridges and new water supplies in the affected villages. The bridge of peril came into being with those resources.
The bridge of peril has claimed many lives. The villagers are not at peace with this. They want security for the lives of their families and friends. Since the inception of this bridge in 2013, they have constantly demanded and beseeched with various Government representatives to build a new suspension bridge which wouldn’t be harmed by strong winds, storms or floods, but their voices have never been heard.
WWF- Pakistan in collaboration with ICIMOD has initiated a pilot project called HIMALICA in Hussaini and other parts of Hunza and Nagar to educate people about the climate change, its drivers, impacts and possible adaptation measures. One of its aims is to inculcate an understanding of making the most out of remittances sent to the households by an out-migrant member of their family. The idea is to help people understand the ways to save part of the money sent-in (remittances) and make wise use of it response in disasters. If people have enough savings, they won’t have to wait for others to help them out when disasters struck, mean they will not be economically vulnerable. Hence they will not have to wait for someone else to come and build a safe home, a school for their children, a safe water supply scheme or a bridge for them. They will be economically resilient, and so shall be able to contribute at least half the money required to build, for instance this direly needed suspension bridge.
However, one of the major obstacles in this process is lack of appropriate policy for internal migration and that limits these people’s capacity for personal and communal development. The policy in effect does not encourage rural to urban migration. There are not enough proper job opportunities for these people when they travel to the cities and residence is always a problem too.
Rural to urban migration has become a controversy now. Many organisations do not often encourage rural to urban migration, but HIMALICA proposes that migration is beneficial for villagers like those of Hussaini because when people migrate to other places, they not only send money back to their families, in the form of remittances, but they also bring in social capital like ample amount of other resources such as new knowledge and skill back to their native villages.
New ideas, skills and fresh innovations contribute in improving human’s quality of lives. They strive to become more productive and in the face of new challenges, their social ties strengthen, their homes become happier and safer while their minds and bodies become healthier. People of Hussaini are hopeful in the face of adversity and understanding the risks; they have calculated their chances of success by welcoming the developmental and climate change adaptation projects.
Via Pakistan Today