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Flood alert targets 50,000 at risk

Villagers attempt to barricade their houses before leaving the area. The districts of Shangla, Mansehra, Kala Dhaka and Kohistan in northwestern Pakistan are under threat from a flooding lake on the Hunza River
Villagers attempt to barricade their houses before leaving the area (Nisar Ahmad/IRIN)

The government of the northwestern Khyber-Pukhtoonkh’wa province has been asked by Pakistan’s National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) to prepare for a possible emergency in the districts of Shangla, Mansehra, Kala Dhaka and Kohistan, downstream from the Hunza-Nagar district.



The region is under threat from flooding from a lake that formed after a landslide in January. About 32 villages in Hunza-Nagar are reported by the local administration to have been flooded.



According to the FOCUS Humanitarian Assistance NGO operating in the area, villages in the Kohistan district are under threat, with some 30,000 to 50,000 people possibly vulnerable.



“People have been hearing about the possible flood here for over a week, but there is no information about emergency measures that are being taken or what people are to do if the flood comes,” Alamzeb Gul, 40, resident of Dasu, the principal town in the Kohistan district, told IRIN.



The district has a scattered population of about 500,000, according to official figures.



The Hunza Deputy Commissioner Zafar Waqar Taj told IRIN that lake water had inundated low-lying areas and the rate of increase in the lake’s water level had been steady. People from the 32 flooded villages have been evacuated and are not allowed to go back.



According to media reports, inclement weather is hampering rescue operations in Hunza and surrounding areas. Due to recent hot weather, melting glaciers have contributed more water to the lake, and Pakistan Army helicopter flights to the affected areas have now been suspended because of bad weather.



Sajid Naeem, director general of operations of NDMA, told the media in Islamabad on 24 May the water level in the lake had reached 108m and the gap between the water level and the spillway constructed after the landslide was 2.5m. He said the water level had risen by 0.5m in the past 24 hours.



“Rescue operations are under way in the affected areas and about 14,000 people have so far moved from the affected areas, of whom about 10,000 have been housed in 31 camps. The remaining 4,000 are living with their relatives,” Naeem said.



While the NDMA spokesman said facilities had been improved and military personnel posted to cope with the initial overflow from the lake, some people in the Gilgit-Baltistan territory in the north are not satisfied.



On Sunday, about 400 people staged a protest in the village of Altit, following a visit by Pakistan’s Prime Minister. About 1,300 people have been housed in the village 15km east of the lake. The protesters were demanding more relief aid from the government.



“There are no doctors and no medicines, and the facilities are very poor,” Reza Hamid, 30, told IRIN by telephone from the town of Gilgit, where he and his family have been sheltered in a school building.



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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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