Saturday, March 24, 2012

Plea for help as landslides kill nine in Gilgit Baltistan and Chitral

Heavy rain has triggered landslides in Gilgit-Baltistan and Chitral, killing at least nine people, and affected villagers are calling for more assistance.

“We are in great distress,” Rehana Bibi, a resident of Upper Chitral, told IRIN. “Life has come to a standstill. Terraced land where we grow crops has been destroyed, and so far we have received hardly any help at all.”

A landslide which hit Gilgit-Baltistan’s Qurqulti village in the Ghizer valley around 10km from the town of Gilgit on 20 March buried about 12 houses. At least four people were killed. In neighbouring Chitral, at least five women were killed when a landslide struck the remote village of What, 15km from Garam Chashma in Chitral District.

A district administrative official in Gilgit, Shuja Alam, told IRIN the landslides have blocked various routes to Ghizer valley north of Gilgit-Baltistan. Heavy rain is set to continue for some days, says the Met Office, which reported 33mm of rain in Gilgit in the past two days.

Alam said people living in villages in the nearby Yaseen valley have been advised to move, but residents say they have been offered no alternative accommodation and that key routes have been cut off. “We cannot leave our homes unprotected,” said local resident Nasir Ahmed.

Food shortages are already being reported in Ghizer, and Alam said the government was trying to reach affected people as quickly as possible.

In Chitral District road links have been cut in the Tau area, but help was apparently at hand: “The paramilitary Chitral scouts and police have been engaged to carry out rescue work and efforts have been made to assist affected people,” Adnan Khan, a spokesman for the Provincial Disaster Management Authority in KP, told IRIN.


Chitral and Gilgit-Baltistan are considered disaster-prone areas. In January, the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) in conjunction with the UN Development Programme held a workshop on “earthquake safer land use planning”.

At the workshop, Sanaullah Khan of the NDMA said Chitral was “in a red zone and prone to natural disasters”. In 2010 an avalanche created an artificial lake along the main road near Attabad village cutting off areas to the north and sweeping away most of the village.

Today the aftermath of that disaster is still felt: Boats plying the newly created lake provide the only route out for people living north of it, but at the moment the lake is partly frozen over.

“We are running short of milk and medicines, especially for children who are sick,” Shafiq Ahmed, who lives in Ghizer valley, told IRIN.

Shuja Alam said the army would be called in “if required”, but Ahmed was skeptical: “We have heard such words before. They have not always transformed into reality.”

IRIN is a service of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs

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