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5,000 people at risk as another village begins to slide into Hunza River

Gulmat village in danger as the slopes have developed cracks and are sliding into the river.

GILGIT, Oct 11: Nearly 5,000 people risk losing their homes and their lives as yet another village on the slopes of a Nagar Valley mountain has developed cracks and has started sliding into Hunza River below. Gulmat village is about 65 kilometres northeast of Gilgit. It is also not far from Fakar village—also in Nagar and also facing a similar situation. Almost 50 families in Fakar remain in danger as cracks in mountain slopes widen at an alarming pace. In mid-September, a large portion of Fakar collapsed and landed in Hunza River, blocking its flow temporarily. The land mass was estimated to be 1,200 kanals. And about five kilometres ahead of Nagar Valley is Miacher Valley where cracks in slopes are also threatening settlements there. “Over the last week alone, at least 90 kanals of land have slipped into the river and more continue to do so,” said Amir Haider, a person affected by the landslides in Gulmat. “It has become impossible to sleep at night as the sound of subterranean movement is terrifying,” he said. Gulmat also happens to be the village of Gilgit-Baltistan (G-B) Finance Minister Muhammad Ali Akhtar. The minister, accompanied by Hunza-Nagar Deputy Commissioner Imran Ali Sultan, visited the area and advised others against going to the area that has developed the cracks. Haider said at least 14 families have relocated from Gulmat village based on this advice. “Unfortunately, these are the prevailing circumstances,” said Mujahid Ali Shah, a landscape ecologist who lives in the area. Shah studied landscape ecology at University of Greifswald, Germany and is teaching at a government school in Nagar. “The landslides are due to a change in the watercourse of Hunza-Nagar River,” said Shah. “Over the past 30 years, the river has changed its course, resulting in the erosion of the lower base of Gulmat crest,” Shah said. “As a result, there are 500-metre-long and 0.5 to 1.5-foot-wide cracks appearing in the surface.” The ecologist suggested the government construct a 50 to 90-metre-high metal wall to divert the water to its original course or build a 500-metre-long metal wall along the southern bank of Hunza River in Hunza-Nagar district. “It can be done during winter when the flow of water decreases,” said Shah. “This [wall] will stop further erosion. Otherwise, a massive landslide can create a temporary lake and cause flooding in downstream areas,” he added. A youth volunteer leader, Syed Azfar Hussain, asked the government to train young people of the area to deal with calamities in a timely manner. Karakoram mountain range is believed to lie on a fault line and the area is prone to disaster, he added. “We demand an immediate survey by international experts to avoid any major disaster,” said Hussain. Officials at the G-B Chief Minister’s Secretariat said directives had been issued to district authorities to ensure all possible assistance to affected communities. “The government is doing its best to ensure the safety of people,” said spokesman Sajjadul Haq.–By Shabbir Mir, Published in The Express Tribune, October 10th, 2014.

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