Hundreds of people displaced by flooding caused by an overflowing lake on the River Hunza in northern Pakistan breached police barricades last week to take matters into their own hands and attempt to widen the lake’s spillway.
Internally displaced persons (IDPs) from camps across the Gilgit-Baltistan area were joined by residents of Upper Hunza, who live upstream of the lake and crossed it by boat, and clashed with police as they moved into an area designated a high danger zone by the government.
“We are tired of the government’s wait-and-see approach. We want to try and drain the lake. We have been out of our homes and in camps for over a month and too little is being done to deal with this crisis,” said an IDP, who asked not to be named.
Landslides blocked the River Hunza, a tributary of the River Indus, on 4 January, forming a lake which has displaced some 3,100 families, or 27,600 individuals, according to an 11 June report by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). Over 18,000 people are living in 24 camps, mostly downstream from the lake barrier.
Asif Bilal Lodhi, the home secretary of Gilgit-Baltistan, has said cases will be registered against people “who tried to sabotage the spillway”. He told the media that the digging up of the spillway could “trigger flash floods” downstream, endangering thousands of lives.
To assess the situation, a delegation led by National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) Chairman Lt-Gen Farooq Ahmed visited the area and assured local people efforts would begin “within a week” to widen the spillway.
“This is good news. It is very important to us that something is done to tackle the situation so we can return home as soon as is possible,” Nazeer Tariq, an IDP living with a host family in the town of Gilgit, told IRIN. “It is kind of them to take us in, but it is not good for any of us to live like this constantly.”
According to Church World Service, one of the organizations assisting displaced persons, about 12,000 people are living with host families in neighbouring Kohistan district in Khyber-Pakhtoonkh’wa Province.
“Given the current situation, both the population upstream and downstream of the lake barrier remains vulnerable. The road link to the upstream population continues to be cut off, while the downstream population is still under a constant threat of a potential dam break, which is still a possibility, particularly once the monsoon arrives in July,” OCHA said.
Hunza Deputy Commissioner Zafar Waqar Taj has said that water outflow from the lake was normal and according to plan. “The current inflow of water is 5,800 cusecs [164 cubic metres per second] while the outflow was recorded as 6,200 cusecs [176 cubic metres per second],” he told the media.
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