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Hunza guides help assess high-altitude quake damage

[Pakistan] Hunza mountain guides are proving indispendable in providing information from high altitude in the earthquake zone. [Date picture taken: 03/01/2006] Ramita Navai/IRIN
Hunza mountain guides are proving indispensable in providing information from high altitude in the earthquake zone
The UN Office for Project Services (UNOPS) is using 25 local mountain guides from the Hunza Valley in northern Pakistan to conduct assessments in areas devastated by October’s earthquake and provide information to UN agencies. Some 15 guides are working in the Allai Valley in the Battagram district of North West Frontier Province (NWFP) conducting assessments for the World Food Programme (WFP), while five guides are working in the Neelum Valley in the Muzaffarabad district and five are working around Bagh. The fabled Hunza Valley is nestled in the foothills of the Karakoram mountain range and since the 1950s its men have been guiding international climbing expeditions on some of the highest and most technical peaks in the world. The Hunza guides are renowned for their expertise in overseeing expeditions in remote mountain ranges, often involving over 1,000 porters and masses of equipment. “The Hunza guides working for UNOPS are some of the most experienced guides and base camp managers in Pakistan. They have worked on some famous expeditions, like Winter K2 and Winter Nanga Parbat, and are guides for one the most prestigious climbing agencies, Nazir Sabir Expeditions,” said Claude-Andre Nadon, coordinator for the UNOPS Remote Recon and Response team. The mountain guides are indispensable for reaching areas that aid workers cannot access. “We were all born at over 2,500 metres and we have all worked with international climbing teams on big expeditions so it’s quite easy for us to handle logistic matters,” said Rehmat Ali, the coordinator of the team of guides. “We also speak the local languages, we can handle and ask any kind of question and go anywhere in the mountains with ease,” he said. UNOPS is using the guides to provide information to aid agencies in order to facilitate the return of thousands of rural survivors to their villagers - one of the major challenges facing the government as winter weather slowly improves. Rural survivors fled to cities such as Muzaffarabad, the capital of Pakistan-administered Kashmir, when the 8 October earthquake razed much of the region, killing over 80,000 people. The government has advised that these rural survivors return to their villages and hamlets by 31 March. But many are reluctant to go, citing lack of water, loss of land, inaccessible roads and a paucity of services, such as schools and medical centres. “The guides have been assessing road conditions to remote villages to see if it is actually possible for villagers to return,” said Nadon. Road assessments by the mountain guides show that many roads are still blocked by landslides and rockfalls, or are too dangerous to negotiate. The guides say that the situation will only worsen with the onset of the rainy season. “The guides are also assessing the infrastructure that awaits the survivors. Are there schools? Are there medical clinics, if so, what condition are they in? We also want to know if the villages are in danger of landslides and if there is an accessible and adequate water supply,” said Nadon. The guides spend up to a week in the field – surviving on what they can carry. “Before they depart into the field they’re briefed by all UN agencies with the vital information that they need, so the assessment forms are geared to meet the specific needs of each individual UN agency,” said Chris McGeough, UNOPS Remote Recon and Response team project manager. “The guiding teams are also equipped with cameras to provide on-site confirmation of the actual situation on the ground. As the old saying goes, a single picture is worth a thousand words,” he said. When the guides return, they relay their information directly to relevant heads of agencies. “This is important as we don’t waste time with paperwork that may not be read, and bureaucratic hurdles,” said Nadon. Their assessments so far reveal that an accessible water source is a major problem for most rural survivors, women’s health issues are not being met and that there are almost no schools left at high altitudes. UNOPS is also using four snowmobiles in the Bagh district to assess conditions for survivors at high altitudes who are forced to negotiate snow-blocked roads. These roads are being cleared by UNOPS using specialised snow-clearing vehicles. “We aim to reach villages and survivors who no one else can get to. If there’s a landslide that has cut villages off, we can get there using quad motorcycles to continue to assess the situation and make sure needs are being met,” explained Nadon.

This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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