Last Updated: Wednesday, 20 August 2014, 14:37 GMT

Pakistan: Northern lake crisis worsens

Publisher Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN)
Publication Date 18 May 2010
Cite as Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN), Pakistan: Northern lake crisis worsens, 18 May 2010, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4bf633a35.html [accessed 20 August 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

HUNZA, 18 May 2010 (IRIN) - Further landslides are exacerbating the threat that a newly formed 16km-long lake on the River Hunza in northern Pakistan may burst its banks, with local NGOs saying up to 13,000 people have already been displaced.

Federal Minister Manzoor Wattoo has told journalists in Islamabad the government has decided to release funds to the local authorities, who began evacuating people from the danger zone for the first time on 17 May.

"The problem needs to be resolved in the coming few days, otherwise there will be flooding. The resulting chain reaction may also damage installations on the River Indus of which the Hunza is a tributary," the head of the flood forecasting division of the Pakistan Meteorological Office, Hazrat Mir, told IRIN.

Landslides, which blocked the river on 4 January, formed a lake, the level of which has continued to rise, the local English language The News newspaper reported on 16 May. Water continues to pour into the lake, including from melting glaciers.

The National Disaster Management Authority was quoted by local media as saying in a 12 May report: "The present rise in the level of the lake is approximately three feet per day which will reach five feet per day in the near future. With this rate of rise in level the situation may become critical soon."

The Frontier Works Organization of the Pakistan army, which had been building a 60-metre wide spillway to allow water to flow out of the lake safely, has stopped work in the area, The News said, but the Pakistan military believes the work done will prevent major flooding.

Local people, however, are fearful. "The mountains around have begun to shed more rocks and mud into the lake; this could block the opening created and lead to the lake bursting," Nasir Ahmed, a resident of Hunza-Nagar District, told IRIN.

Hunza-Nagar is one of seven districts in the affected territory of Gilgit-Baltistan which has borders with Pakistani-administered Kashmir, Khyber-Pakhtoonkha'wa Province, Afghanistan and China. The affected area is 720km north of Islamabad.

Gulmit badly affected

The movement of people, mainly to areas lying above the lake, continues. "Eighteen shops and 40 houses in our village have been evacuated so far," said Nisar Ahmad, speaking to IRIN on the phone from Gulmit, a tourist resort in the Hunza-Nagar District with a population of around 2,500.

Nisar said family members had moved in with nearby relatives and that "the national bank and post office buildings in Gulmit were already submerged in water. "Moving belongings is, literally, an uphill task here," Nisar said.

Farman Gojali, another resident of Gulmit, told IRIN: "People have even dismantled the wooden ceilings, doors and windows of their houses and are moving them to safer areas since they fear that if the lake bursts its banks, nothing will be saved. Villagers have received too little help from the government which for weeks has been saying all is under control."

Displaced

Around 4,000 people are reported to have been displaced from Hunza-Nagar District so far, and 18 camps have been set up in the region to house them, according to local media.

"Camps have been set up in some official buildings and schools and food items sufficient for a month have been stockpiled," Saif Uddin, who works with the NGO FOCUS Humanitarian Assistance, told IRIN. He said many of the displaced had opted to stay with relatives, presenting major problems given the nature of housing in the area.

"Houses in Hunza are built in such a way that they can barely accommodate five to six people. In a typical Hunza house, there is only one big room which serves as a bedroom as well as living space," Uddin said. He told IRIN that with the new displacements, "up to 15 people are staying in these one-room houses."

Overcrowding is aggravated by the fact that internally displaced persons, fearing they may not be able to return to their homes, have brought with them luggage and also "wooden doors and windows removed from their houses in order to keep them safe," said Saif.

"It is very difficult; there is no space to sleep and no privacy," said Maryum Bibi, 40, now living with her four children in an uncle's house in Hunza town.

kh/at/cb


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