Stranded

Published August 12, 2010

Over a 100 people have died in Gilgit-Baltistan due to the floods that have ravaged the country. For over 12 days now, Gilgit and the surrounding districts have been cut off from the rest of the country as the roads leading to the valley are closed due to landslides. The five main bridges that link to the region have been swept away by the fierce torrents, leaving the locals and visitors in complete isolation.

According to Ms Nurulain, an ex-adviser for education, women’s development and social welfare, who is currently in the area, all roads to Gilgit are closed and supplies are running out fast. There is no petrol, gasoline or diesel available for purchase which makes the situation even worse since the residents have been without power for a few days now. With a fuel shortage, people are cautious about running their generators and even cooking food. Due to food scarcity, some people are also slaughtering their own animals in an attempt to survive against the odds.

The Army has been blasting some of the irrigation channels to prevent further flooding, but it seems not much is working. As recent as August 11, at least 40 people were killed in Gilgit town due to landslides.

Emma Varley, a medical anthropologist whose area of research examines the impact sectarian conflict in northern Pakistan has on maternal healthcare in the region, is also currently in Gilgit. “There is no water, no electricity, barely any milk, no meat, no cylinder gas to cook – basically everything has collapsed,” said Varley in a phone interview with Dawn.com. Water supply is extremely short, with many resorting to using tap water which has been polluted by sewage water, leading to dysentery, especially among the children.

Varley who visited the District Headquarters earlier yesterday (August 11), said that although there were still medical supplies available, there was no way of sterilising equipment (unless there’s an emergency operation) since even the hospitals were low on fuel supply.

 “The Army and the local government have been trying to help out as much as possible, but the scale of the disaster is beyond their control,” said Nurulain in a phone interview with Dawn.com. There’s a daily C130 flight in and out of Gilgit (weather permitting) with food and medical supplies, but there is still a long list of people waiting to be airlifted. PIA also has two flights daily, but due to the weather, the flights are being cancelled. This only adds to the misery and frustration of the people who are also unable to access ATMS or withdraw cash due to no electricity in the region.

Varley, opines that since the civilian government is not doing much to alleviate the situation and due to a shortage of supplies, a black market of sorts has emerged where people are willing to buy fuel for any asking price.

According to estimates given to the locals, it might be at least a month before things resume to normal and the residents have access to the nearby towns and villages. Until then all they can do is wait.

** Update: The image taken by Emma Varley shows the drinking water when it was available in Gilgit, about three days ago. The other image shows the damage caused by flooding on the night of August 10, when a massive surge of water rushed through and cut into the broad water channel which supplies all of Gilgit Town and nearby villages. Varely spoke to the Chief Secretary who said that power to the area might be avilable in four days while water will be available in two. Babusar Pass is still closed for traffic while the KKH is still closed at many locations.

Amna Khalique is the Features Editor at Dawn.com

The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

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