Residents of Lower Kohistan district move rocks and wooden logs by hand as they attempt to repair roads in their area, on their own.—Photos by the writer
Residents of Lower Kohistan district move rocks and wooden logs by hand as they attempt to repair roads in their area, on their own.—Photos by the writer

KOHISTAN: After the floods washed away infrastructure in many parts of the country, residents of many areas are looking to the government to rebuild roads and restore connections to other parts of the country.

But in Kohistan, locals have grown tired of waiting for the government to act and have taken it upon themselves to fix the roads with whatever they can find: wood, gravel and clay.

“If we wait for the government, it would take years for them to rehabilitate [the roads],” Habibullah, a former nazim of the Kalam valley in Swat, tells Dawn.com.

Habibullah is among some 200 locals who are repairing the road connecting Kalam to the Bahrain tehsil of Swat. A large section of the road was washed away by flood waters.

In the past, Habibullah recalls, it had taken the authorities very long to restore land routes. “So, we have decided to start the work ourselves and repair the road together with the use of small tools,” he said.

But even as he busies himself in the reconstruction of the main road leading to the valley, he feels that time is running out.

“If the road remains blocked, a shortage of food and medicines is imminent. People in the upper areas will die and the government will be responsible.”

The urgency is also not lost on Zubair Torwali, a resident of Bahrain.

Torwali, a researcher of local languages, says that since the people of the area are essentially cut off, they have little choice but to make the dangerous trek across mountains to access food.

“People fasten bags of food on themselves and climb [mountains] with ropes here in Bahrain, as there are no signs of roads or pedestrian paths, all of which have been washed away by floods,” he said.

Despite their attempt to repair the road themselves, they still urged the government to restore links so the flow of much-needed help and medicines could resume to the remote areas of Kalam and Bahrain.

Torwali stressed the need for sending medical teams to these areas, saying that flood victims there were in “dire need of the government’s and international assistance to be able to survive”.

The government should “rehabilitate roads, bridges and other structures on an emergency basis”, he added.

In the Kandia tehsil of Upper Kohistan district, roads have suffered the same fate as those in Swat, and its residents, much like the denizens of Kalam valley, have been patching a road up by themselves.

According to Hafeez Rehman, an educationist from Kandia, the main road in the tehsil has been washed away by rain-induced floods for the third time in a decade. This time, the residents have been cut off for about a week.

When Dawn.com spoke to him on Friday, Rehman, his cousins and others from his village were repairing the stretch of road at Thoti (pronounced Too-tee) for the second day.

“My cousins and I left home early in the morning and walked difficult, mountainous terrain to reach Thoti [to repair the road],” he said.

Rehman and his companions hope that they will be able to get the road enough for at least a pickup truck to travel on it so that food can be transported to the areas and patients can be shifted to hospitals.

By Friday, he said, they had managed to repair a 200-metre stretch of the road.

Another resident of Kandia, Ghulam Murtaza, told Dawn.com that while residents had started repairing the road in Thoti, the relevant authorities have begun repair work further ahead on the road closer to the Japan Bridge.

Upper Kohistan Assistant Commissioner Hafiz Muhammad Waqar confirmed that repair work had begun on that patch of the road.

Around 200 to 250 volunteers had joined hands to repair the road, Ghulam Murtaza says, recalling that they had done the same after the 2010 and 2016 floods.

“We are now hoping that we will complete the repairs within 10 to 15 days,” he said.

The timeline, however, makes the elderly Mushtahir Khan jittery, who says many homes in the area had run out of food, and medicines were no longer available at basic health units.

Doctors, too, had left, he lamented, adding that the three-year-old daughter of an acquaintance had died of cholera in Jishvi village. The disease, he said, was spreading fast in the area after the floods, forcing people to shift elsewhere.

With input from Abdul Sattar Abbasi; a detailed version of this story can be accessed on dawn.com

Published in Dawn, September 3rd, 2022

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