Friday, February 18, 2011

Melting Lake, Frozen Souls

By Ghulam Amin Beg

As the spring is approaching, the thick ice sheet covering Attabad Lake might have started melting down, but enabling support to sustain life for the 25,000 souls in Gojal or upper Hunza continues to remain frozen.

The federal government through NDMA, the GB government, UN Agencies and agencies of the AKDN might have joined hands in mid July 2010 and came up with winter contingency plans and early recovery plan and might have foreseen the risks of a frozen lake and many other scary scenarios in paper, but the actual deployment of resources on ground including provision of all weather dedicated passenger boat or heli service for emergencies, provision of immediate and safe dwellings for IDPs and support to extend quality secondary health care and uninterrupted access to education-the first priority of the affected people, remained mere promise during the winter.

Though the flash floods in Gilgit Baltistan in late July 2010, and later flooding all over Pakistan, made things worse for the affectees of the Attabad landslide disaster, however harsh winter and strong winds multiplied sufferings for the stranded people of Gojal valley, upstream the lake.

Having said that nobody should discount the fact that lack of political will, weak implementation capacities and corruption of the government machinery, and indifference of and uncoordinated response and communication by humanitarian and development agencies also played its due role in downplaying the real sufferings of the people and failing to make a real humanitarian, strategic and business case for swift opening and draining of the lake water, and providing resources for implementation of the various contingency and early recovery plans.

For example, against a target of PKR 1.2 billion projected for 18 months early recovery activities in July last year, for areas like winter extended relief, health, education, livelihoods and agriculture, basic communication infrastructure and community restoration, the government was able to mobilize PKR 100 million and other agencies mobilized resources to the tune of PKR 200 million. Much of these funds related to relief and provision of food and non-food items-NFIs. Thanks to initial food aid to IDPs by FOCUS/AKDN, and later the swift response by the Chinese government and then the pre-planned but coincidental after response by WFP with support from donor countries including USAID that the food deficit and fuel problems were mitigated for six months now. What will happen after six months is anybody’s guess.

But as in one complaint letter addressed to the head of a regional institution and copied to ‘all concerned departments’, dated 5th February 2011, a rehabilitation management committee of the IDPs of Shishkat wrote:

Only food is not enough. Feed is given to animals, to beasts in the cages in a Zoo or to criminals in jails. But we are none of them. IDPs are human beings like non-IDPs. They have good or bad feelings in response to the circumstances. IDPs have also their social life. They have to join happy or unhappy occasions in society. They have to educate their children with dignity and need access to health facilities. Besides food is more then eating rice, tea and local bread for months? Our children are fed up of eating same food, they demand quality food, we are unable to provide, because we are cash drained.

Shelter was a key need. However the IDPs from Shishkat complained that they were forced by the government and the community institutions to leave the village and migrate to central Hunza. False promises were made that they will be provided rents to live in rented buildings, job opportunities shall be offered and that living allowance will be made available. Now they complain except for food, no promise was kept and over 150 households are facing problems as they don’t have cash to pay rents, utility bills, mobility costs, school fees and health costs. The temporary winter shelter could only be completed for half of the total IDPs and the winter is near ending.

Then, education was prioritized first by the suffering souls and IDPs. What they needed from the government and the long established non-governmental provider of education, to upgrade two of the existing schools, one for boys, other for girls into higher secondary or inter-colleges to reduce the pressures of young girls and young boys migrating across the lake to other regions in search of education. Annually over 200 students, over 70% girls pass 10th grade and leave the area, as there is no inter-college. That would have reduced costs, trauma and above all retained young people in the area. Providing fee remission to students in other educational institutions was another plan.50% students received from the government, six months remission. The rest are waiting for a promise unrealized. Government and large development agencies with governance structures away from the region, and politicians with myopic visions and party interests move only when there is public pressure, political clout, and institutional voice. The stranded people and the IDPs had none.

Then there was priority for secondary and tertiary health care. The government has a very good building in Gulmit, equipments are in place, but there were no doctors, technicians and paramedics. The government and again largest provider of private health were unable to provide incentives and packages for doctors to stay in the affected area. They only moved in and out for a week or ten days. When the harsh winter came, the doctors were first to fly, as there were no insulated rooms for them, no fuel to cook and no electricity to light. Bharia Foundation provided team of doctors and nurses for three months, and they equipped the hospital, provided a system, but they were giggled and they left. The government wanted the largest provider of health service in the area to take over, but their decision making processes normally followed normal peace time protocols, and went beyond emergency response, and it was too late. Now there is another talk of the town, that Bharia Foundation has been requested to come again. Meanwhile the whole winter passed, and during the last three months, probably twice doctors were mad available for seven days each.

And now snail pace work on the spillway. While the now notorious FWO, is again digging and blasting, this time for 670 million PKR, and promising to lower the lake by 30 meter by 15th May 2011. The first time this contractor, promised to open the lake initially in two weeks, then in 45 days 250 million, but later provided a bill of 800 PKR, and later is history, how settlement upon settlement were inundated and billions worth of trade with China were lost, billion worth livelihoods and assets submerged in the lake, and over 25 kilometres of Karakoram Highway-KKH and vital bridges were destroyed. People complain that in broad day light the FWO officials are selling the fuel oil to boat operators and vehicles on a daily basis. The joke is that the only benefit people have in Hunza from FWO is cheaper diesel which they are blamed they sell in black market.

At one stage, people took a sign of relief when the news came that the President, PM and COAS have agreed to request the Chinese to do the work. Rumours also came out of traders visiting China that even fleet of engineering corp of PLA are ready and on the move. But suddenly, they saw the same workforce at work who ditched them a year ago!

And now, dedicated passenger boat service provided by the army/NDMA remained off the lake for many reasons; high winds, frozen lake and more so lack of transparency and absence of a standing operating procedure or SOP in place. For example no timetables for boat operations were ever displayed, so that passengers, the old, sick and children and women who wish to travel in emergencies know when to leave their home, and when to reach their destiny. So uncertain, humiliating and crooked were the operations that people would wait for 2-4 hours to actually see a boat operator coming and boating at will. If a passenger or group of young people start complaining on late start, they will switch off their motors and float alone. The cargo boats, operated by businesspeople have obvious profit maximization in mind, they are providing the services, and remain the only hope, but people also blame the operators of treating the stranded people like prisoners or criminals.

There is no choice for the people, but to live a prisoner’s life.

In conclusion, the lake is melting down, the actual deployment of resources on ground including provision of all weather dedicated passenger boat or heli service for emergencies, provision of immediate and safe dwellings for IDPs and support to extend quality secondary health care and uninterrupted access to education-the first priority of the affected people,remained mere promise.

One reason for this inaction being, the souls of the 25,000 people are frozen. They have lost their voice under the roaring winds over the lake. They have lost their sense of being free human souls, but living a prisoner’s life. Some youth and literati may be raising voice on this injustice and inhuman treatment, but majority are tranquilized by dozes of divisive petty politics, administrative religious verdicts and stick and carrot policies of the administration.

Currently the Mafiosi, a nexus of corrupt officials, border traders and petty local political opportunists, rule the souls and minds of the suffering people.

The rest of the so-called responsible agencies both governmental and others,with a mandate to respond and deliver, are living in comfort zones in five start office complexes in Islamabad and other places, playing with figures and doing PowerPoint presentations, and flying in helicopters with donors to ‘untroubled’ areas, or making areas ‘trouble-free’ when high officials plan to visit an affected area.

Let’s end this on a positive note. After every winter, there comes a spring. Could the youth find its voice back, as they did in Egypt and the larger middle east?

The only ray of hope for the future. Engage Chinese expertise and technology and engage the army higher command directly advocating that vital national interests and interests of the local affected people converge. Only the youth and the retired servicemen from the area could make a strong case for it.

As one elected representative said, 'This is the last chance for FWO. If the spillway was not lowered by the target date this time, the peoples faith in the ability of the army to deliver shall be badly shaken, and we will not be able to stop the people for whatever decisions they make as a result of this failing'.


Farida Rehmat said...

A very thorough and precise description of the suffering of the people and the situation over all.. I hope people like you raise their vioces to the extent that it is heard by the higher ups before its too late and we face another disaster_ God fobid_ in the coming months.. coz nature flows in its own way and it wont have any mercy on the already troubled souls...

Amin Beg said...

thank you.

true, not only nature, but corrupt machinery, greedy and exploitative systems also have no mercy for the already frozen souls.

Noor said...

In addition to what has deftly been scribed by Amin bhai, I would like to say that our leaders would earn respect and credibility only if their stances in personal/family gatherings and public are the same.

Amin Beg said...

Very relevant point, Noor, but difficult part of the leadership role!

In our context we are not used to declaring personal interests, conflcit of interests, and even private income declarations are fudged before assuming public offices and leadership roles.

Anonymous said...

Amin I appreciate your good writing there is flow ,articulation well done.You have got international exposure I congratulate you on all your acievements.We all have to understand the magnitute of this disaste is extremely larger and beyond our assesments .What I am trying to make a point from your analysis is that the dewellers of Hunza Nagar should avoid collusion with the organisations who are exteremly corrupt ,play effective role to expose those elements who are damaging the interest of the people even in this critical situation.This is hihg time to assist the relvant people
/organisatons in a very professional way to curb all malpractices and try to single out govt officials or other individuals.

Anwer said...

Amin bhai, your short comment is more powerful than the whole article... how true:

"... not only nature, but corrupt machinery, greedy and exploitative systems also have no mercy for the already frozen souls."

Shazia Kawal said...

Shazia Kanwal on facebook link:

some change is better than nothing,Its better to be part of the Change rather then the victim of Change!!
The voice of people is hard to neglect. Govt has to listen.

Amin Beg said...

Some very good and relevant inputs from friends.

I agree with the conclusions drawn that the people especially the youth and literati need to raise their voice and distance themselves from corrupt officials, self-serving interest groups, be political, busines or others, and join hands with those few clean, dedicated and honest officials and political leaders, to lower the sufferings of the people in these hard times.

yes during this transition, we should not act like victims or spectators, but be part of the change as actors.

Jamiluddin Hisam said...

Jamiluddin Hisam Amin Bai, I really appreciate you and a few other educated colleagues from GB for highlighting the sufferings of IDPs. I wanted to add a couple of points here:
1. The educated lot from all over Hunza is equally responsible for the shameless ...absence of a qualified doctor in the area. Our forefathers built schools and health centres on self-help basis. What is our contribution now? Why can’t we come together to help arrange a single doctor? Let’s admit, we all are too busy in decorating the ‘five star’ offices, as you have rightly put it, in centre/south or abroad. Charity begins at home and unless we don’t contribute our own share, it will be futile pointing at the weaknesses of other actors in the society.
2. In regards to part of your conclusion, I think it is better we leave the ‘high command’ to play its constitutional role and if we feel that involvement of Chinese experts and techonology is vital we should definitely advocate for it. If we are complaining about lack of leadership, corrupt and weak institutions today, let’s admit these ‘Messiahs’’ have had their due share in it.

Amin Beg said...

agreed sir, we all have added our bit to the misery and continue to do so knowingly or unknowingly;
As some social analysts here rightly point out, that due to mushroooming of layers of institutional structures and excessive involvement of actors outside Hunza in making decisions and setting priorities for us in the name of stability,chain of command or peace and communal harmony, the negative fallout was, it has, on the one hand 'deindigenized' development, on the other it has de-ligitimized political actions and activism and delinked majority of youth from mainstream development into marginalized welfare-oriented actions, the vacuum being filled by vested interest groups of all kinds.

As far the role of Messiah's, yes they are equally responsible, may be more, coz they enjoyed 80% of the pie share and still continue to rule, but the point i wanted to make was the contractor-FWO was one of their agency, and the assumption and impression was that the higher command might be relatively honest, straight and clean. Just a last desperate attempt to see hope at the end of the tunnel.

Jamiluddin Hisam said...

Boss, those analysts are right on the money. On the second point, I wouldn’t still see him as the last hope ... you know so many such hopes were dashed in the past by his predecessors.......anyways, your choice!

Fayaz karim said...

A very comprehensive, succinct, unbiased and lucid draft that covers all dimensions of the whole situation and truly reflects the voice of the voice less people. But I would say; unfortunately, despite knowing all the facts, the functionaries and white so-called white colors still claim that the government is striving its best and every thing is going on the right path.
Fayaz karim

Zubair Ahmed Rozi said...

it is upon the peoples of the hostage area how they capacitate the resources they already own in different forms, one cannot remain on the mercy of the poor administrative representatives who only know briefcase culture and are oblivious from their surrounding happenings.

Anonymous said...

Amin Bhai has very rightly illustrated the situation and is a food for thought for all those, who have been neglecting the situation. Even the public representatives from Gojal, the NGO officials, heads mostly belonging to Gojal and having good relationship with NDMA have done nothing except VIP visits with NGO and Government Officials. I wonder when these personal and institutional linkages would used to influence government and others... Anyhow a lesson is that leadership is with dedication and committment not personality or quality education, the type of leadership is whatever

Aziz said...

Indeed a very good description, profoundly elaborating the reasons and highlighting the truth and inabilities of our government and other humanitarian and development actors in failing to address the priority needs of Attaabad landslide and lack affectees…
to me the only ray of hope for our people is when youth get united and get their voice back..
I had an experience of try to get the youth involved in a protect rally and press conference on 4 Jan. 2011 to celebrate the first anniversary of Attabad disaster as black day… we met many of our highly aware and educated youth but we found them satisfied with the ongoing relief efforts and work on spillway rather we got suggestions for not to celebrating it as black day…
We conveyed message to more than 500 people (students/professionals) of GB, especially Hunza Gojal but in the end just 50 people participated in the protects rally on 4 Jan. 2011 followed by a press conference…

Amin Beg said...

some very good comments, observations and inputs.
There is a Wakhi saying that when Wakhis have full stomach for the day, they walk on their toes, when Burushos have full stomach they will dance to other's tune or hareep.

With the Chinese relief, there is a feeling that for six months most affectees will continue to walk on their toes and continue dancing on others tunes.

And when both are hungry again, they will fight on still other's drum beat, i am afraid.

The cycle continues, unless it is broken by the youth.

Anonymous said...

Good writing.I appreciate what you say. Our area is full of talent and educated people. Why we always look at others to help us. Pakistan which itself is corrupt and looking for help. Cant we start something by our self, though it will be slow and take longer. Do we lack of good leader ship. People from Hunza are giving services at international level now.Why they are not being able to deal with problems. Why they dont start like Japenese started after world war. Why they dont start like Russian started. or why they dont start from where developed nations started. Though it will take long but they will be soemwhere.

Ejlal said...

I really appreciate and congratulate your indepeth analysis regarding suffering people of are the leading personality your foursighted vision will lead us towards the right direction. this is the responsibility of every youth to came forward and raised their voice right of their suffering brothers and sisters.

youth from gojal