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Monday, March 15, 2010

The Real Cost of the Gojal Disaster


Dr Shahid Siddiqui

Daily Times, 16 March, 2010

Two and a half months have passed – tiring, trying, and torturous months. 25,000 people are still stranded in Gojal (Upper Hunza), the biggest and beautiful tehsil of Gilgit-Baltistan, which was cut off by a landslide at Ata Abad on January 4. The flow of River Hunza has since been blocked by huge debris spread over three kilometres and an artificial lake has formed, rising and expanding every day. So far the length of the lake has gone up to 13 kilometres. When will this ordeal come to an end? When will life return to normal? When will the shackles of fear, uncertainty, and anxiety break? There is no clear answer to any of these questions. There are, however, false promises and hopes all over the place. The stranded inhabitants of Gojal realise it, but they are still waiting for some miracle.

The landslide has not only isolated Gojal from the rest of the country, but, with the passage of time, has led to some disturbing developments in terms of formation of an artificial lake whose rising water is posing a constant threat to low-lying areas. Water is entering the lake at the rate of 825 cubic feet per second and is rising at the rate of 1.6 feet every day. The current water level is 221 feet. The biggest potential danger is that the lake might burst.
According to an estimate, in case of an outburst, fifteen large and small bridges between Ata Abad and Gilgit are likely to be submerged and there is a danger that the flood may make its way to the Tarbela Dam.

It is important for analysts to examine the economic cost of the Gojal disaster at a local and national level. The major outcome of the disaster was the damaging of the Karakoram Highway and the collapse of the Shishkat-Gulmit Bridge, which disconnected Gojal with the rest of the country and cut off the only land route between China and Pakistan. A huge volume of trade between the two countries has come to a halt, which has had a negative impact on the country’s economy. The collapse of the expensive bridge between Shishkat and Gulmit, and destruction of three kilometers of the Karakoram Highway is a huge blow to the national exchequer. The loss of fruit orchards, cultivated lands, houses, properties, cattle, loss of businesses as a result of lack of communication have started hammering the local economy.

The Gojal disaster has tremendous life and health costs. Around nineteen people died on the day of the landslide at Ata Abad. And now the time for melting of glaciers is round the corner. This simply means more water in Hunza River, more pressure on the artificial lake, acceleration of water build up and enhanced probability of the lake’s outburst. Are our decision makers aware of this potential threat? Are they cognisant of the aftermaths of the potential outburst? Do they feel the urgency of the matter? The debris removal process is taking place but with a speed which is not satisfactory. 25,000 stranded people are praying for a miracle. Miracles, as Saint Augustine would suggest, are not contrary to nature, but only contrary to what we know about nature.

The writer is Director of Centre for Humanities and Social Sciences at Lahore School of Economics and author of Rethinking Education in Pakistan., Blog:


  1. Another impressive,inspiring,imposing ,instigating, investigative & indicating article ,a hall mark of Dr.Sahib

  2. Thank you Dr. Shahid Siddiqiui for your this contribution and to show your solidarity with the stranded people of Gojal-Hunza. It proves that there are people who feel pain of others and help them out of trauma and raise issue to high-ups.

  3. Thanks once again Dr. sb for helping us fight at a national level. I think it is almost too late to release the water. Had it been removed faster and earlier, little damage would have taken place. Now it is late to the extent that it has a threat to the whole region of Gilgit-Baltistan as well as national impacts. If such a huge body of water bursts, it will damage many more bridges and parts of KKH till Terbella (as expected). This will disconnect the whole area which will have a negative impact on the crop as transportation of goods will block. Nationally the Pakistani economy suffer due to disconnection with China.

    I am inspired by your feelings for the area. I hope and pray that we may have many more Shahid Siddiques in Pakistan and particularly in the area.

    Reshma Perveen

  4. Thanks Ejaz for your encouraging remarks. Rahim, I really for feel the pain of 25000 people stranded there. I wish I could there personally and help them.
    Thanks Reshma, for your thoughtful remarks. Are you teaching somewhere?

  5. Thank you Dr. Shahid for your great contributions, support and solidarity shown to the people of Gojal Hunza. This shows your attachment and love for the people of this remotest part of the country. The people of the area on several forums expressed thir gratitudes to you for your scholastic contributions in raising awareness among the literate populace in the country and abroad.
    There are few individuals like Dr. Sahib who have sensed and felt the gravity of disasterous aftermath of the artificially formed dame, if bursted abruptly.The unprecedented landslide at Sarat-attabad, Hunza on 4th January 2010 blocking each drop of the water of Hunza river has posed great threats to the low lying population in Hunza and Indus River basin. We hope your warnings and efforts will bring fruit by activating the decision makers at the local, provincial and Federal levels.
    We pay our heartfelt tributes and request other Pak Media people to follow your footsteps.
    Ahmed Jami Sakhi
    Gilgit, Pakistan.

  6. Dear Jami sahib,
    thanks for your encouragement and support. I really appreciate the urgency of the issue you have expressed in your comments. I'll definitely write to reflect that urgency. One day our efforts will have impact on them. InshaAllah.
    The first step is the announcement regarding the calamity hit area. I wish they could accelerate the speed of action. To tell you the truth jami sahib, I would love to be in that area working with the people of Gojal during this very hard time and I might come next month when I get leave from my Uni.

  7. Knowing Gogla as I do, I was pleasantly amazed to see you keen interest in the area and what is happening here. The area certainly needs such erudite attention.

    Wish National Disaster Management Agency does a good job there and soon...

    BTW you have a new reader. I will follow you here.

  8. Shirazi sahib, my guru in blogging, You are most welcome to me tiny world, you helped me to construct. Thanks so much for your informed comments.