.. by Islamuddin
CHITRAL: Recent rains and its consequences have undoubtedly been unprecedented in recent history. Unfortunately despite calls for preventive measures no meaningful action was taken. Even warning of climate change failed to invoke climate responsive policies. Trillions of rupees have gone down the drain by way of relief and rehabilitation at the cost of developing resilient communities. One is compelled to conclude that even disasters have been turned into opportunities to fill the pockets of the corrupt mafia who continue to thrive on funds released for relief and rehabilitation of the affected. The resultant losses were caused by faulty policy focus on relief and rehabilitation instead of prevention. Area attracting media attentions are getting official help but not the ones away from media glare.
The border areas of Begusht and Gobor in Garam Chashma valley happen to be the worst affected. Prolonged icy rains wiped out almost the entire livestock which is the mainstay of their economy. In summer people take their cattle to these upland areas (May to October) for grazing. The rain was so massive and sudden that people could not reach their cattle in time for slaughter. Even the cattle in barns could not stand the extreme weather. Their fodder and wheat crops have been spoiled beyond redemption. No one knows how these people will manage to survive without government help. So far their ordeal has not come in the official radar and no official has cared to visit the areas to assess their losses for compensation. Without livestock these people cannot survive. Their agriculture is limited to a special cold resistant wheat variety (basini) and fodder which could not be harvested because by the time these were ready for harvesting icy rains and wing coupled with gushing torrents of rain water came to wipe out their means of livelihood.
Chitral as a whole is mostly mountainous with limited fertile tracts located in the plains downstream River Chitral. The entire valley is prone to natural disasters but each time the focus is on relief and rehabilitation even at the cost of preventive measures. With one tenth of the amount spent on relief and rehabilitation, Chitral could have been saved from recurring disasters through preventive measures, involving land management in upland areas, planting trees, building check dams, controlled grazing and prevention of quarrying in upland areas resulting in soil erosion. It so happens that during heavy rainfall, the eroded soil moves downwards in the form of flash flood and takes everything along, uprooting trees and boulders enhancing power of the flood water manifold, enough to cause collapse of a fortress. When this flood water reaches plain areas its speed is reduced turning the area into a delta. River beds are silted resulting in overflow which damage everything on both sides of the river bed. Encroachments on the river bed have multiplying effect as far as losses are concerned. Had the government implemented land use rules on ground since 1975, the situation would not have come to this passé.
The losses in the plain areas could have been prevented through protective wall having 8 feet height and 4 feet width using GI wires instead of concrete which is the current trend. Concrete walls collapse if the water starts digging at the foundation or a stray boulder hits the wall but same is not the case with the protective wall using GI wire. It will not collapse; instead it will sink down without unraveling thus making the foundation stronger and resilient. Unfortunately the more temporary concrete work is beneficial for contractors and officials who are used to turn natural disasters into opportunities to make money on regular basis. Even if forced to build protective work the mafia keeps the river bed narrow to ensure that it cannot stand the power of flood water flow. Bridges built on our rivers are also kept narrow to save money and to ensure that next flood will bring them down to provide another opportunity for easy money. A quick survey of bridges will reveal that most are being built annually without raising a question as to why these bridges could not last one year at least.
In view of the facts depicted above our natural disasters are more of man-made ones. The speed with which we went on deforestation spree, encroachments on state lands, unregulated mining, over-grazing, carbon emissions and faulty projects were all recipes for the disasters that we face today. It is time we learnt lessons from our past and change course to bequeath a better Chitral to our coming generations. Such a course is only possible provided we demonstrate loyalty to our soil as an essential part of our identity and existence. .. Islamuddiin, Lotkuh, Chitral. 01 Sep 2022