The Attabad tragedy
By Dj Mathal
Due to human greed and carelessness, the lake formed on the Hunza river after a land sliding early this year has spread to over 25 km and submerged a number of villages. According to reports, so far the debris lake has deprived about 27,000 people of the area of their houses and other belongings. The rising water has also destroyed five large villages of Hunza Nagar washing away and submerging standing crops, orchards and precious carved wooded buildings. Besides, educational institutions, religious places and markets have also been submerged. At this point of time, nothing can be said for certainty how many more properties would be lost in the rising water. The submerged villages of Attabad, Shishket, Hussaini, Gojal and Yaseni were beautiful and scenic places like the proverbial Aden Garden in the Atlantic which was eaten up by the ocean thousands of years back and for whose reemergence people living in the rim of the Atlantic Ocean still wait. In our case we also live on hope that one day the submerged villages of Hunza Nagar will re-emerge to show their beauty to the world once again.(www.bangesahar.com)
On the night of January 4, 2010, a landslide near Attabad village blocked the Hunza River, forming an artificial lake which continued to rise as the debris could not be removed on time. The residents seemed helpless and continued looking at their villages and houses coming under the rising water. They later had to move to safer places and housed in relief camps to live a life of beggar.
On the face of any natural and man-made calamity, nations consider the sufferings of the affected people as that of their own and tackle them collectively. However, in Gilgit-Baltistan, the people have happened to be very unfortunate as their rulers have always failed to come to their rescue in hour of trial and tribulations. Recently, some leaders of Punjab visiting the calamity-hit areas stopped their party workers from slogan chanting saying they had come to the area to share the grief of the residents not to get any accolade while on the other hand our own so called leaders have been seen using official protocol and getting TV publicity while opening even a charity type Langar for the affectees. To cheat the people, the political leaders visited the affected people and made it a publicity campaign by picking small children in their laps.
When the affected people staged a protest demonstration during the visit of Pakistani Prime Minister to the area, the puppet chief minister of Gilgit-Baltistan rubbed salt into the injuries of the nation by claiming that the protesters were not the affected people of Attabad but some bank defaulters. Besides, they also claimed that all the relief items and donations collected by NGOs for the calamity hit people were given by the government.
Considering the gravity of the situation and records of the government agencies, BNF Chairman Abdul Hamid Khan has written to the United Nations chief to extend support to the affected people of the region. However, he made it clear to the UN chief that international aid and donations should not be given to the government of Pakistan rather it should be given directly to the affected people through the UN food programme. Mr Khan also pointed out that the landslide that caused the blockade of the river was a result of over 400 blasts carried out any Pakistan and Chinese firms in search of minerals in the region. These blasts have brought significant changes in the topography of the region besides causing more glacier melting. Apart from this, Pakistan is also planning to construct a large number of dams in the region which would cause further environmental imbalances leading to more crises in the area. The BNF chief reminded the UN chief that during the 2005 earthquake in Azad Kashmir and northern parts of the country, Pakistani agencies were accused of widespread irregularities in the distribution of relief items arriving from abroad.
The way affected people of the area held demonstrations and drew the attention of the world towards their plight should not be dismissed as a routine matter. Today due to the apathy and carelessness of the rulers, the people of Hunza Nagar have become a picture of neglect in the relief camps. The camps have already become a garbage dump having no facilities of whatsoever and the inmates at the mercy of various diseases. The affected people have warned the government that in case it did not improve the condition of the camps, a caravan would leave for Islamabad to lodge a protest with the Supreme Court of Pakistan. Besides, a civil disobedience movement would also be launched in the area.
It seems that the government of Pakistan and its puppet chief minister in the region are not ready to even comprehend the gravity of the situation and provide needed support to the displaced people of Hunza Nagar. The government failed from day one to release the blocked water on time and continued as a silent spectator to the tragedy. But now when the situation has reached such a critical point, it is condemnable that no serious efforts are being made to tackle the situation and support the homeless people.
It is time the people of Gilgit-Baltistan should understand that salvation did not lie in looking to others for resolution of every problem. We need to stand on our own feet and for this we have to take practical steps to make the nation master of its own destiny by rejecting corrupt elements. If the rulers' intransigence and callousness continued, there is no guarantee that the region's geography can not see a change with intervention of international forces in the name of human rights.