A forgotten catastrophe
By Ejaz Karim
Around 20 people died, seven injured, two villages completely inundated, almost 660 hectares of fertile land submerged, approximately 200,000 trees drowned, and more than 3,656 people displaced permanently – the disaster is by no means over!
This all happened on January 4, 2010, when a devastating mountain landslide into the River Hunza caused the formation of a lake – Attabad Lake. The murderous disaster not only took precious lives of people, but also every tire of life such as economic, social, financial and agricultural. Entire region of upper Hunza remained cut-off from rest of the country until the completion of the realignment of Karakorum Highway (KKH) tunnels at Attabad Lake on September 2015.
“Our entire village devastated, my home damaged completely, our total land arable plus pasture including hundreds fruit’s trees (apple, cheery, apricot) drowned in water and we displaced and still living in shelters provided by USAID,” said Nawazish – a victim of Attabad disaster.
Five years later, still the situation of chaos and misery prevail. Victims are plumbing for livelihood, permanent rehabilitation and above all justice. One can imagine the weight of devastation for the small farmers – who lost their entire property, home, arable land and orchards, etc – which is the primary source of livelihood.
A natural disaster turned into a man-made disaster just because of lack of seriousness, mismanagement and above all incompetence of local and central political leadership. Shadows of the disaster were calculated and shown by geological experts in 2003 and 2004. So, the disaster was not sudden; it was possible to prevent such a big inundation and suffering, had authorities took it with good-faith.
Meanwhile, news has been publishing regarding, mismanagement, leakage of resources and the inability of authorities, but no one heeded.
“Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN) – a local partner in regional socio-economic development got a donation of approximately Rs 80.7 million from national and international donor agencies for permanent settlement of victims, but the organisation did not complete the loss assessment report of the disaster yet,” Nawazish added.
Photo session’s visits of political leaders: On January 10, 2010, Qamar Zaman Qaira – the then governor of Gilgit Baltistan rushed to Hunza and promised to take all efforts for the relief and rehabilitation of the victims. Likewise, an unending series of promises started and there is no sight of the fulfilment of such promises.
On May 21, 2010, the then prime minister Yousuf Raza Gilani visited Hunza and ensured assistance in his extensive speech. Meanwhile, Asma Alamgir – the then adviser to prime minister also announced that the government will provide compensation to the victims of the lake disaster for the loss of their crops and homes, but it was no more than a betray and political point scoring.
Similarly, on March 15, 2011, Syed Mehdi Shah, the then GB chief minister, and GB Assembly speaker Wazir Baig hailing from Hunza paid a visit to affected areas and performed the formality of “inaugurating” the already operational boat service launched by Northern Areas Transport Corporation (NATCO).
Beating the people with the people’s stick
“Disasters do not generate change in and of themselves, but rather intensify or accelerate pre-existing patters” (Committee on Disaster Research 2006: 166, Quoted after Henry 2011: 224). This assessment is applicable to the aftermath of Attabad disaster.
On August 11, 2011, families affected by the disaster blocked the KKH to record their protest against GB chief minister on his scheduled visit to Hunza. Amid a peaceful protest, police baton charged the people to clear KKH. A shuffle ensued in the course of which a policeman opened fire and gunned downed two people – Sher ullah and Afzal (father and son) and injuring three.
Consequently, the mobs ransacked and torched a police station. In turn, police registered cases and arrested hundred of innocent educated youth including Baba Jan and Iftiqar Hussain. A judicial inquiry was done – however, the report has not been made public yet. As a result, Baba Jan was accused along with 11 other party members for ransacking a police station and damaging government property. On September 2014, GB Anti-Terrorism Court (ATC) sentenced him along with 11 of other comrades to life imprisonment. Some of them were granted bail on the condition of joining ruling party, Pakistan Muslim League – N; while Baba jan, Iftiqar and Shukurullah rejected the offer to get bail on condition. So, they are behind the bars in Ghakuch Jail.
“I have granted bail to my party workers, you belong to another party and you are my opponent and I do not have concern with you,” said Mir Gazanfar, now governor of GB – when Irfan contacted him for help in granting bail. “He (Gazanfar) demanded Rs 20,000 from my father to grant me bail,” he added.
Baba Jan, Iftiqar, and Shukurullahare are not terrorists. They are leftist political activists – struggling for the emancipation of working class and society based on justice, equality and against unending state oppression. Baba contested Gilgit Baltistan legislative elections in June 2015 from prison and secured the second position by attaining almost 5,000 votes.
In nutshell, promises of GB and the federal government remained mere promises, as it could not minimise the despair and suffering of the victims. Political leadership and bureaucrats betrayed the people of Hunza and victims since the first day of disaster. Permanent settlement of victims is still an issue. Future of thousands of victims is unpredictable to think about the long-term strategy for rebuilding affected areas and rehabilitation of victims. After five year, victims are still looking for answers of how and why it all happened. Why the judicial report of the killing of a son and his father is not published yet and above all when they will be settled permanently?
Originally appeared in “Daily Times” on Jan 04, 2016