.. by Shah Karez
Pakistan is endowed with the largest collection of high mountains in its North. Three of the most important mountain ranges of the world, Himalayas, Karakurams and Hindukush meet here. These mountain ranges are the water towers of Pakistan and repository of biodiversity. In addition to meeting the water needs of the country, these precious resources are providing sustenance for the communities living on these mountains and their fringes.
Chitral is one of these highly mountainous regions nestled between the Hindukush and Hindu Raj ranges. Spread over 14850 km2, Chitral boasts of maintaining 40 peaks over 6100 m. and over 30 odd valleys.
These peaks play critical role in providing vital services to the communities in the form of fresh water, clean air, and habitat for biodiversity, source of food, energy, minerals, flora and fauna. The snow melt in the form of Chitral River, its tributaries and Springs provide source of fresh water for drinking, for irrigation, and has the potential to generate over 3000 megawatt hydro power. The arid climate makes it an ideal habitat for a variety of plants and animals.
Like other mountain regions in the world, Chitral Mountains also contain high-risk environments. Avalanches, landslides, earthquakes and glacial lake outburst floods threaten life, while fragile soils make these areas vulnerable to environmental degradation. Seismically, Chitral has been declared as Red Zone, prone to severe earthquake.
The occurrence of disasters is on the rise. Extreme weather conditions have been observed during the past almost two decades in Chitral. Snowfall and rains have become untimely and unregulated. Frequency and severity of the disaster events are exacerbating livelihood risks, poverty, food insecurity and health problems.
Flash floods devastated Yarkhunlasht village in 2001, in 2005 floods of the same nature occurred in Brep village, and in 2007 Sonoghur village was destroyed by glacial floods. Buni town was the next victim of the same kind in 2010 together with Reshun village. In June/July, 2015 as much as 45 villages were affected by rains and floods, including the villages named above which were repeatedly hit.
Picture credit Shafiq Iqbal, 2015
The floods also washed away part of Chitral -Buni road at Kuragh resulting in food and energy crisis and water scarcity in upper Chitral. Garamchashma road was washed away from Shoghor down to Roondur and the valleys of Murdan and Zhitur were badly flooded. The essential commodities in Garamchashma bazar exhausted creating severe crisis. Confronted with a do or die situation the people were forced to work for several days on opening of the road to enable edibles reach there. Several bridges across the district were washed away further increasing the vulnerability of the people to cope with the situation.
To add to miseries an earthquake followed in October 2015 destroying over 18000 dwelling houses and animal sheds. Such events push the affected communities further down the ladder of economic, social and psychological poverty.
What is worse, it takes years for the communities to forget the miseries and recover from the shocks.
Brep after 2015 floods photo credit Shafiq Iqbal
Flood season has come again, floods have started even before the Moon soon rains. On 10 June, 2018 the picturesque Bumburet valley was flooded. Wheat and Maize crops and fruit orchards were destroyed. One can imagine the woe these events inflict on the affected population.
Bumburet floods 10 June, 18 – destroyed crops/orchards-Picture credit Chitraltimes.com
Experts attribute most of these floods to climate change and resulting Glacial Lake Outburst phenomenon.
This might be true but the havoc played by these floods has to stop. Natural Resources such as Glaciers and Rivers call for protection and conservation. There should be an end to further denudation of the forest. The rangeland and pastures must be safe from overgrazing and trampling of livestock and poachers. The Forest and Wild Life conservation and promotion should take priority on the government agenda. Minimizing the disaster risks is the call of the day for immediate attention. Agriculture in all its dimensions needs promotion and investment. The potential for business and employment have to be exploited. Education and Health sectors need further investment. Gender friendly and women empowerment activities need further attention. Building codes need to be applied to protect maximum lives in the event of earthquake. Without building a credible internal road network we will lose the benefits of the CPEC projects from reaching the poor.
It is issues such as these that need special attention of the national, provincial and district authorities, political leaders and civil society at large.
The investments made by the NGOs such as Aga Khan Development Network, Sarhad Rural Support Program and others for sustainable development in Chitral is appreciable. It is because of the work of these NGOs that Chitral boasts of having strong social capital. The Public sector has to be more serious in building strong partnerships with the private sector to attain the dream of a prosperous Chitral living in harmony with nature. .. Shah Karez, Chitral,16 Jun 2018