If you haven’t been following the news on the Hunza Valley landslide and the potential floods from the lake in Attabad, this photo from the Boston Globe’s Big Picture series may inspire you to learn more:
The caption on the Globe reads, “A girl cries while sitting with others to protest against the government’s failure to announce compensation for those displaced by a lake created after a landslide …in Hunza district… on May 22, 2010.”
The development has created a new wave of people in Pakistan displaced not by violence but by nature. The landslide in Hunza Valley occurred on January 4, 2010 and buried Attabad Village, destroying 26 homes, killing 20 people, and damming up the Hunza River. In the five months since the landslide, authorities have struggled to evacuate residents living in dozens of villages by the lake formed by the disaster, which is now over 300 feet deep and 16km (10 mi) long, “submerging miles of highway, farms and homes.” Last week, the lake reportedly reached the top of the natural dam currently in place, and began to spill out, causing rapid erosion of the landslide debris.
According to news agencies, water levels are now considered critical (and rising, in part due to glacier melting) and if it “bursts its banks,” experts fear it could inundate more than 39 villages in the Hunza and Gilgit region. According to Al Jazeera, army engineers had created a canal late last month in an effort to drain the lake, but “a rapid breach” could still lead to massive flooding, which “could affect about 50,000 people downstream and sever a road serving as an important trade link with China.”
So essentially, we should all still be on flood watch, (despite some reports claiming a decrease in water flow).
The human impact of this situation is even more tragic. So far, about 20,000 people living in villages downstream have been evacuated and shifted to IDP (Internally Displaced Persons) camps. The News yesterday quoted a special adviser to the Prime Minister, who told reporters that so far 23 camps have been set up for the affected families, and promised a compensation package for those who have lost their homes or are displaced. This announcement followed a protest two weeks ago, when residents claimed the government was “apathetic” and “indifferent” to their situation, and relief items and compensation had not come soon enough.
In an interesting news package yesterday, Al Jazeera’s Kamal Hyder also reported on the impact of the landslide on the region’s tourism industry, which was of course already affected by the security situation. Despite the violence, some travelers still made the trek to the Hunza and Gilgit areas. However, the January landslide and the formed lake have cut off the Karakoram Highway, blocking the road link between Pakistan and China. This could prevent visitors from traveling into the area and may add “further loss to an already threatened business.”
As someone who has traveled the Karakoram Highway to the Chinese border and has seen Pakistan’s natural beauty firsthand, I think this development is not just a loss for the tourism industry, but also for the many travelers who made the trip to Pakistan’s northern areas despite the violence and instability, [see here for a Q&A with my friend Roland, who led a kayaking expedition down the Indus River last year]. As for the numerous people displaced from their homes, I can only pray that the situation is somehow controlled.
In the meantime, if you know of good and credible organizations for people to donate to support those affected by the disaster, please leave your recommendations in the comments and I’ll add it to this post.