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Hunza flood-displaced hope for early return

Boat services across the lake on the Hunza River in northern Pakistan have resumed Nisar Ahmed/IRIN
Receding water levels on the lake formed in the Hunza River by a landslide in January this year have raised hopes among the 20,000 or so people displaced by the disaster that they may soon be able to return to their villages.

Activists with Focus Humanitarian Assistance (FOCUS), an international group of agencies affiliated with the Aga Khan Development Network, said that water in the lake and in flooded upstream villages was receding by a few inches a day. They said it was too early to predict when internally displaced persons (IDPs) could return.

Syed Mehdi Shah, chief minister of the self-governing northern territory of Gilgit-Baltistan, told the media in Islamabad that IDPs from areas downstream of the lake could begin returning home “early in August”.

However, Zafar Taj, deputy commissioner of Hunza-Nagar district in Gilgit-Baltistan, told IRIN: “People will be moved back when it is safe.”

Women based in makeshift camps, or the homes of relatives in safer, downstream areas, are particularly keen to resume normal life.

“We are cooped up all day here. There is nothing to do. We keep thinking of the chickens and livestock and crops we need to tend to,” Ameena Bibi, 40, told IRIN. “Men can at least go and sit at a bazaar tea shop. But we women are used to work in our homes and villages. We feel tired of just sitting and chatting with each other.”

Samra Bibi, 19, agreed saying: “We just feel we must go back even if it’s unsafe. It’s awful here.”

A map of Pakistan highlighting vulnerable districts to potential hazards 201007181020360158
Photo: OCHA
The lake on Hunza River is in Gilgit-Baltistan in the northeast. (See larger version of map)
Spillway working

Early in July, water finally began flowing through the spillway created by military teams following the disaster.

David Petley, a geologist at the UK-based International Landslide Centre, said on his blog that lake levels had stabilized by 6 July.

Improved weather also means boat services have resumed across the lake.

IDPs are anxious to get back and assess the flooding damage to their assets and begin repairs.

“It’s hot and uncomfortable here. The house we’re living in with my relatives is rather cramped too. My wife and I are now very keen to return,” said Salam Muhammad, who was displaced just over a month ago from Upper Hunza. “I wish they would tell us when we can go.”

He said potato crops in many areas had been destroyed by the floods and many houses would need major repairs.

IDPs have been staging protests to demand a better compensation package from the government.


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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