- With winters around the corner and work underway all over Chitral, tough-to-reach Kalasha suffers hardships in getting necessary supplies
- Report says 30 link bridges, 10 suspension bridges damaged while 70pc of standing crops, large chunk of trees swept away
- KPDN CEO says Mumuret and Ruku drinking water supply system entirely damaged, 30 water mills, 50 irrigation channels destroyed
Flash floods that began mid-July and have left much of Chitral battered and damaged have created a crisis for the Kalasha people, Pakistan Today has learnt.
The Kalasha Valleys consist of three main valleys. Bumburet, also known as Mumuret, is the largest and has become the centre for relief for the Kalasha people, while Rumbur and Biriu, the smaller two, are also vastly affected.
The mountainous area has presented a vast range of problems for not just the people living there, but also for those trying to undertake any relief activities. A flood assessment summary developed by the Kalash People’s Development Network (KPDN) outlines that the damage began on July 17 after heavy rains turned into flash floods.
Around 100 families have lost their homes and many others are not sure what will become of their standing crops. Meanwhile, the roads, water supplies, mills, shops, etc. are also in terrible conditions, according to the report.
“The Kalasha Valley Mumuret and Ruku drinking water supply system is entirely damaged and people have been forced to travel and bring water from far-flung areas. As many as 30 water mills have been damaged here. Over 50 irrigation channels have also been destroyed,” said KPDN CEO Luke Rehmat.
“The area was reliant on hydropower but around seven hydro power houses washed away in the carnage,” he added.
Around 100 houses were entirely destroyed while 70 others have suffered partial damage. The KPDN report outlined that over 70 per cent of the standing crops have been lost while a large chunk of trees has also been swept away in the flood. Some believe that the flash floods are a result of climate change, and the lost of these trees will only make things worse.
The roads are the biggest obstacle for people that are trying to get to or from the area. Around 30 link bridges have been washed away while another 10 suspension bridges, fit for jeeps and other vehicles, are also damaged, according to the assessment report.
Relief and rehabilitation work is underway throughout the Chitral area with the Frontier Works Organisation (FWO) kicking off efforts to remove blockages in the Chitral River. “Work has started, yes. Boulders and stones from the mountains that were washed away had to go somewhere and they found spots to get stuck into,” Rehman explained. “The problem is not that relief is not reaching the Kalasha Valley fast enough; the problem is that there is work underway all over the Chitral area, the problem is not from a lack of effort,” he added.
Dr Talha Rehman has been trying to setup relief camps in Chitral. His party is yet to find their way to the Kalasha valleys. “It’s a five hour drive then a seven hour trek so it takes a while just to get there,” he told this scribe.
“We were trying to get a helicopter arranged but that hasn’t worked out so far. We will be trying after eight to 10 days again with an NOC so that we can setup a medical relief camp there,” he added. “The extent of the damage in Chitral has not been given the coverage it deserves; people at large have no idea how bad things are here,” he said.
The Kalasha people have been proactive in trying to get aid as well. “The affected people come to the nearest village and then take relief goods back with them,” he said.
While Bumburet has its own camp, the other two valleys have had to deal with their own problems. When supplies don’t seem like they will be enough, the people reach out to other areas like Orguch.
The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) Provincial Disaster Management Authority (PDMA) has also been active in trying to ensure that the damage is dealt with. However, the extent of the problem is too vast for them to tackle.
“To some extent, work has been done to restore pathways. As for the food requirements, the army is already airlifting food to the valley. Part of the road link has been restored but complete accessibility is yet to be established,” PDMA Director General Amer Afak told Pakistan Today.
Without an actual pathway the only option left is to airlift goods to some parts of Kalasha valleys. “There is an accessibility issue, and that is the biggest challenge for us. We all look to the army in such situations because they have the resources and capacity and the army has done some airlifting of relief goods to the area. They have also tried the traditional donkey/horse carts to get relief goods there. We are trying to make sure that a shortage of any kind does not occur here,” KP PDMA DG said.
“It’s a big challenge given the terrain of the area; heavy machinery cannot be moved there and significant repair work is needed before recovery in some cases,” he added.
The community awareness in these areas is also very strong. They have tried to reach out to the outside world which has helped them quite a bit. It has also helped the PDMA mobilise people. “When we get these reports we also make sure that we act. For instance, if there are shortages and airlifting has not been undertaken as much as necessary, we will do it again,” DG Afak said.
While efforts are being sped up, more trouble may well be on its way.
“What we are doing on our end, because Chitral is a snow bound area, is that we have been in touch with the food authority because there should be no food shortage. We know winter is coming and we are trying to prepare with that in mind,” the PDMA DG said.
Despite the relief efforts, the troubles are far from over. “Water borne diseases are popping up now. There is no drinking water that is sanitary and we worry for the people living here,” Rehmat said wistfully.
“Some are getting aid while the others aren’t so; the desperation levels are also rising. What happens when the little supplies we have run out? We need to take action on an emergency basis,” he said.
The crises that is plaguing the Kalasha Valley makes it very obvious that Pakistan needs to plan for extreme weather events – whether they are caused by climate change or not is irrelevant. A situation like this one should not oft repeat itself, because it can do nothing but spell disaster for the people of the area.
Image courtesy: Ishpata News