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August 15, 2010

Disaster Revisits Gilgit-Baltistan

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Closely on the heels of the Attabad disaster, Gilgit-Baltistan is faced with yet another calamity — widespread floods the likes of which are not in living memory of anybody. The colossal losses to the basic infrastructure include roads and bridges that have been washed away bringing all economic life to a halt. The arterial Karakoram Highway (KKH) is literally in a shambles. At least three bridges in between Besham and Gilgit have been damaged halting all traffic.
Supplies of items of daily consumption are fast depleting including liquid petroleum gas (LPG) and fuel.The situation worsens with each passing day. The only connection to the mainland is by air which is dependent on weather. A great many people are stuck having no way of reaching where they must be for all kinds of urgent reasons. Intra-regionally the situation is still more serious as all roads and many bridges leading to the adjoining districts from Gilgit, the provincial metropolis, have been badly damaged.
Losses of all kinds will remain incalculable till the deluge subsides. The Indus witnessed high tidal waves bringing 335,000 cusecs of water through Skardu, Rondu, Haramosh, Juglote and Chilas. Tragic news came from Baltistan where 58 lives were lost in the floods in Qamrah village and Tilis in the Mashabrum sub-division of Ghanche district on Aug 7. At least 51 people were killed in lightening and flash floods in Diamer District. Ten were reportedly missing. At least five people were killed in Ghizer District. There is no count of livestock swept away by the floods in the three districts.
The torrential rains and floods have affected over 20,000 people in seven districts of the of the region. Over 1,500 people were displaced in Ghizer. Rains and floods played havoc in Yaseen, Ishkoman and Punyal.
Flash floods triggered by torrential rains also hit villages of Khyber, Gircha, Sarteez, Chipursan and Ghalapan in Gojal valley. A strategic bridge on the Karakuram Highway was washed away in Ghalapan village.
The rebuilding of roads and bridges and other public infrastructure will take time. But the most urgent need at the moment is the restoration of transport and communication. The damages to the KKH reportedly are exten sive and will need huge amount of funds and machinery to repair.
The holy month of Ramazan has set in with its own blessings of hiked up prices of food items in the ‘land of the pure’. Though restoration of traffic on the KKH in a couple of weeks is being claimed, but it may in fact take at least two months before normal traffic resumes. According to cautious estimates the total losses that Gilgit-Baltistan has suffered in the deluge may run into billions.With the country itself reeling under the massive losses to infrastructure, farms and crops in the unprecedented floods, there is little hope any compensation would be flowing from that end any time soon.
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