By Shabbir Ahmed MirMay 25, 2010
GILGIT: PML-N chief Nawaz Sharif has suggested that the government seek technical assistance from China to deal with, what is being described as, a “ticking water bomb,” as the Gilgit press club and two hospitals have been evacuated in view of a possible breach in the artificial lake.
The expanding lake – created as a result of a massive landslide on January 4 – has so far submerged several upstream villages and damaged the strategic Karakoram Highway (KKH), displacing hundreds of local residents and severing the vital road link with China. Sharif visited the displaced people in Hunza and assured them of help on behalf of his party.
Later on he also spoke to local journalists in Gilgit where he called upon the PPP government in Gilgit-Baltistan to restore the road link with China on a priority basis. “The KKH is the lifeline of Pakistan and it must be repaired as soon as possible,” he said, adding that Pakistan should seek technical assistance from neighbouring China to deal with the situation because Beijing has experience is tackling such disasters. Authorities warn that more than 36 villages downstream could be hit by flash floods if the 19-kilomtrelong lake bursts its banks.
Nawaz Sharif was accompanied by his brother Shahbaz Sharif and senior PML-N leaders Raja Zafarul Haq and Senator Pervaiz Rashid. Gilgit-Baltistan Chief Minister Mehdi Shah received the delegation at the airport where a large number of PML-N workers had turned up to welcome their leader. Sharif expressed solidarity with the displaced people and assured them of help on behalf of his party. “We are with you, the whole Pakistan is with you and you are as important to us as any other people in Pakistan,” said Sharif as his supporters shouted, “Long Live Pakistan.”
Sharif announced a Rs100 million aid for the landslide victims on behalf of the Punjab government, saying that he was ready to give more, if needed. However, he wasn’t satisfied with the steps taken by the government for the displaced people. “But I should tell you that the Punjab government will not leave you alone in this time of distress,” he said. Sharif also announced Rs500,000 each for the heirs of those who lost family members in the disaster.
The younger Sharif, on his part, promised to provide free-of-cost education to the children of the affected families in the cities of Punjab. Nawaz Sharif called upon the government to increase the frequency of helicopter flights ferrying people from Gilgit to Gojal daily. A C-130 plan dropped relief goods provided by the PML-N delegation in Hunza for the displaced people, sources said. Meanwhile, in view of a possible breach in Attabad lake, authorities on Monday evacuated the Gilgit Press Club (GPC) and two major hospitals, sources said. Office-bearers and members of the press club have been warned not to visit the building until till further instructions, said Imitiaz Taj, president of the GPC.
After similar instructions from authorities, the Kashrote Eye Vision Hospital and Aga Khan Health Service have also evacuated their staff and shifted their machinery to high grounds, the sources said. On the other hand, officials said the distance between the freeboard and the lake water further narrowed down to 5 feet on Monday. “Water could overflow the barrier by the 27th of this month,” an unnamed official told The Express Tribune. The water level has risen by 2 feet on Monday while the seepage is nearly 200 cusecs, he added.
Sources in the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) said that according to their estimate the flash flood, in the worst scenario, could damage nine RCC bridges and eight suspension bridges downstream. But, they added that ropeways have successfully been installed at Ganesh, Hini, Tishyot, Khanabad and Shayan Nagar area to facilitate local residents. In a related development, at least three people were killed and two injured after a vehicle skidded off the road and plunged into Hunza River. “The accident occurred in Hunza,” said police chief Farman Ali.
Published in the Express Tribune, May 25th, 2010.