Fazal Khan was shocked by the scene of devastation his village presented in the wake of the flash floods and lightning which struck the Gais valley on August 11 last killing 48 people and injuring dozens.
He had been trying to reach his village at the earliest to meet his relatives and share with them in the grief over the loss of five family members in the tragedy but being old and unwell he could not cross the river through the pulley-trolley that was providing a temporary way to cross to the other side of the river.
Gais is a remote eastern valley of Diamer district the lower and upper parts of which suffered heavily. Flood floods triggered by lightening swept away hundreds of houses, turning corps fields and orchards and gardens turned into barren land in the upper part of the valley.The poor families had to take shelter in the houses of their relatives. The floods also obliterated signs of life in the lower parts of the valley.
Life is completely paralysed and people are forced to leave the area to settle somewhere else as there is no food, water or even shelter over their heads. Unless government or other relief agencies come to their help, thousands of people who have lost their all and have no means of livelihood anymore will not be able to survive in Gais.
The suspension bridge which was swept away in the Indus flood has not yet been repaired to transport relief to the villagers who at great risk to their lives are using the pulley-trolley to go across. The bridge needed some repairs that the Public Works Department was attending to when the floods and lightning struck the valley. The bridge collapsed and was washed away by the floods. This has left over 2,000 inhabitants stranded in the valley without food or medical help.
Initially a few helicopter sorties brought in relief but these have been suspended since. The pedestrian bridge which the government had promised to build is nowhere in sight.
Situated on the other side of Karakoram Highway, the people of the valley travel to Chilas for their needs. The journey is very expensive as transporters are charging five times higher fares. Even the free relief goods are costing the people much because of the transport cost. Pregnant women and patients could not move nor can they be removed as there are no arrangements of safe passage.
?I saw a man getting his hands hurt while crossing over the other side of the river with the help of pulley; his wounds became more painful but he did not give up the struggle as he had to get his old father and a baby crossed over,? he narrated the ordeal of the people.
?Authorities promised to set up a pedestrian bridge which has not yet been fulfilled and the residents have to go through this ordeal every day,? complains Shahabuddin, a local resident.
The shelterless people whose houses were destroyed in the flood are spending nights under the open sky and days in scorching heat of the sun as most of them have no tents even to protect them from the harsh and variable mountain weather.
Advocate Najeeb Ahmed, who heads the Goharabad National Youth Federation, pointed out that tents were urgently required but the local administration had done nothing in that regard.
?The affected people are left at the mercy of harsh weather as few families are given tents. They are dependent solely on farm produces. People used to sell farm produces at the nearest market of Chilas to meet both ends and bear expenses of education of their children but those are entirely destroyed by the floods and how they would survive in the days to come is a big question mark which needs to be answered before another crisis hits the area,? he tells Dawn.
He urged the authorities to do something soon to restore the bridge otherwise people may starve due to growing food shortage.
Ahmed sounded very pessimistic about the rehabilitation even after Prime Minister Gilani?s visit. Even the two promised generators had not been provided so far. The destruction of the water channels was forcing people to drink muddy water, he said.
Mayore Khan, a development worker and a conservationist, who comes from the affected village, looks positively at the efforts of the administration saying it has done according to its capacity. However, he fears a great crisis in the valley if enhanced and urgent steps were not taken by the authorities and NGOs. ?Water channels, standing corps and food stocks are totally destroyed in both parts of the valley,? he states.
Diamer?s Deputy Commissioner Sibtain Ahmed claimed the administration was doing everything that was humanly possible. ?We have given them tents, but they live with their relatives. Water kits are provided along with pipes to ensure supply of clean drinking water,? he said. Work on the foot bridge was also in progress, he said denying rumours that no such work was being done. Regarding payment of compensation for deaths to the legal heirs the administration officials said the cases were being processed.
The people, however, lamented elected representatives for their indifference. They said Bashir Ahmed Khan visited the area with Prime Minister to make only announcements which has not yet been materialized and the problems of the people were increasing by the day.
?We want him to stay with us so that he could realise what kind of problems we are facing here?, said Muhammad Umar Khan, a student from upper part of the valley.
Bashir Ahmed Khan, member of Gilgit-Baltistan Legislative Assembly, when contacted for his comment rejected the notion and said: ?Remaining in the valley is illogical; Gilgit is the capital town of the region with all offices there; so one can be in a better position to serve the people while remaining in the capital town.? He said due to his efforts the Prime Minister visited the affected parts of Diamer district and announced relief package.
The majority of the inhabitants complained about the acute shortage of medical facilities.
?I have come to Chilas for medical cover because there is no such facility in Gais. During the calamity Army had set up a medical camp there for just two days and left the valley at the mercy of the dispensaries where nothing is available,? one of the residents said. They say that there has been outbreak of water-borne and skin diseases.
The affected people ask one question: ?We hear that PAF aircraft C-130 transports relief items daily for the people of GilgitBaltistan but where these items go??