Thursday, December 30, 2010

The Tragedy of the Dispossessed

By Ghulam Amin Beg

The year 2010 was unique, unprecedented and turmoil in the history of Gilgit-Baltistan.

Lets briefly touch each of the key instances in 2010 below:

i) we saw history repeating itself as mountains moved again since 1858, killed over 19 innocent lives, washed away whole settlements in Attaabad, created a lake spread over 30 kilometres and submerged fully or partially over five villages upstream in Gojal, on the Hunza River. IDPs are in still in camps and on food aid. The frozen lake and snowy winter has created more hardships.

The life and livelihoods of over 25,000 people in Gojal tehsil remain at standstill, international border trade with China was reduced by 70% and tourism industry got a huge blow with hotels, restaurants and gifts shops in Hunza showing pictures of a ghost town.

ii) Then came the flash floods that destroyed whole villages, urban centres and the livelihoods of the people in over 370 villages, affecting over 8000 households and over 86,000 people suffered. For over two months communication between GB and the rest of Pakistan remained disconnected and essential supplies including fuel, food supplies, utility items and medicine remained scarce. In many locations for whole months electricity remained disconnected. Many people are still in camps and on food aid.

iii) Gilgit town again saw madness for some time, dozens of people were killed and target killing still continues. Business and daily routine life, schools, offices even hospitals remained closed during the crises.

The one good news was a peaceful and relatively calm Muharram and active involvement of the religious, political, social activists and leadership across the communal divided and the GB administration to make peace.

Having said that a number of good initiatives were taken by the government and other stakeholders including asking the Chinese Red cross to bring in relief,heli service by army and NDMA, the actions of UN agencies mainly WFP in providing food aid, and those of the large civil society organizations active in GB like the AKDN agencies through FOCUS, AKRSP, AKPBSP, AKESP and AKHSP to name a few.

Similarly the private sector and the media played its due role in helping the suffering people and projecting their cause.

However, much needed to be done, and done professionally,swiftly and with care, especially work on the Attaabad spillway, resettlement of affected people and smooth relief operations in flash flood affected areas and coordinated resource mobilization for early recovery and rehabilitation, and transparent mechanisms by supporting local people to make their own/owner-driven decisions in rebuilding their homes and villages.

Below, I would like all of you to provide your inputs and analysis of the actions by the four key actors that would provide us the opportunity to reflect on the state of affairs in Gilgit-Baltistan, when it comes to saving lives, honour and property of the common people and those affected by natural and man-made disasters?

First, the government and ruling parties; who runs the government, and how and where they make decisions on protecting and saving lives, and on protecting the interests of GB and the local people in general vs the interests of those having vested interests in GB?

Second, how the large civil society organizations operating in GB are prepared and how hierarchical and fragile their systems are and how cumbersome their decision making processes and resource deployment strategies may be when it comes to pre-empting risks, rapid response and coordinated actions;

Third, how the private sector and the media reacted to these new situations, how they supported the people and what benefits they reaped out of the turmoil and what nexuses they created to dispossess the already dispossessed.

Fourth, the local people represented by affected groups, local small civil society, and producer groups and those organized under the banner of local political parties. How they responded, organized themselves and what capacity gaps are there to make their own decisions to govern their own affairs locally?

I look forward to your participation in understanding the tragedy of the dispossessed, in general the local people of Gilgit Baltistan, who are ruled and overruled and misruled by indifferent decision makers sitting in Islamabad and Karachi or are based in Gilgit and Skardu, but are not voicing and representing the actual and unmet needs of the local populations.

In particular, the dispossessed are those IDPs, the poorest of the poor, women and children suffering due to these structural anomalies, the disasters made by politicians, bureaucrats and officials in nexus with contractors and private sector through corruption, bad governance,inefficiency and by civil society policy makers through inaction, indifference, centralization of authority and powers away from GB and lack of space for local leadership in decision making.

In conclusion, how to make these key actors accountable to the people? How to ensure that these actors; the government, private sector, civil society, media and the local people work together to improve the quality of life of the people they intend to serve, and they even thrive on the food aids and relief items and funds meant to ameliorate their sufferings?

Your frank, open, and candid views are welcomed, so that we learn from our mistakes in 2010 and frame an agenda for change in 2011.

Happy New Year

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