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Nature’s vengeance compounded

Garam Chashma Diary

By Islamuddin In recent years climate change has hit coastal and mountain communities the hardest. If timely preventive and curative measures are not taken we would find ourselves grappling with refugee crisis that the world has never seen before. Mercifully in the mountain areas part of the climate change is man-made and it can be reversed. Had Chitral’s natural habitat not been disturbed so massively through reckless human intervention, the recent calamities could have been avoided. But then human greed has no limits. Timber mafia, land grabbers and corrupt officials have a great deal to answer for the way they handled our natural resources without keeping in mind the consequences of their actions. This year Chitral received massive snowfall not experienced in recent years. It took days to open major roads to traffic but some areas like Garam Chashma still remain cut off resulting in the acute shortage of items of daily use including medicines. Referral patients could only be airlifted by helicopters which takes few days to be available which means that emergency patients cannot access this facility. District Head Quarter Hospital lack specialized services except gynecology. Surgical facilities are not available. There is no sense of urgency to reopen Chitral-Garam Chashma road from Shoghor onwards. Inadequate and poor performing machinery bereft of supervisory oversight is working at snail’s pace. Meanwhile the people are getting desperate and questioning the apathy of officials for not putting in place a mechanism to keep the road open. Instead of bulldozers only two tractor trolleys had been provided by the previous government without drivers or regular budget. As these trolleys were of no use to reopen the main road without budget and driver, some people found it convenient to make the trolleys disappear. These could have been used to clear valley roads at least. The corrupt mafia which considers natural disasters and bad roads as gold mines should be fought against. This can be done through awareness and transparent system of accountability which the right thinking people in the government and NGOs should plan and execute. Once this loophole is plugged preventive measures can genuinely be taken to prevent or reduce occurrences of disasters. These measures include implementation of land use laws and regulation including the notification of 1975 and River Protection Ordinance 2002 which will prevent flooding through overflow by deepening river course through dredging, while protection works can be built at vulnerable points along the river courses. In the upland areas check-dams and terracing will not only stop flash floods and avalanches but also help grow plants by improving storage of sub-soil water. Complete ban on cutting of trees and provision of alternate fuel will go a long way to improve the situation coupled with user rules for common lands like pastures, mountains, glaciers, barren lands and riverbeds. Quarrying for construction stones should be banned on the sloppy lands above major roads to ensure that these are not blocked through erosion and fall of debris. Overgrazing in vulnerable upland areas may be banned while in other places regulated. Chitralis have always lived closer to nature. Chitral’s natural environment has always been compatible to the survival of human as well as wild life. One is not possible without the other. Today Chitral’s wild life is fast disappearing. Snow leopard is the story of the past and so are the many bird species. Only markhor can be seen in Tushi conservancy (thanks to the efforts of local communities) but no one knows for how long. Many conservancy projects came to an end without sustainable results. Resources went down the drain. Government officials never tire saying that Chitral, especially Garam Chashma and Bambooret, are the ultimate tourist destinations but today both these areas are in shambles. In the absence of basic road infrastructure and the cumbersome police reporting process tourism has remained a distant dream and as a result Pakistan has failed to get its share of tourism business. The Lowari Tunnel project can only benefit Chitral when the entire district is connected by reliable all weather road network. Hopefully all concerned would wake up to their responsibilities to make Chitral a safe place where natural disasters due to human activities are reduced and rehabilitation work immediately follows a disaster as a matter of routine not exception and for this district government may be empowered and its working monitored for accountability.

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