Aug 27, 2010

Gilgit-Baltistan: Stranded


Canadian doctor and medical researcher describes the isolation facing Gilgit-Baltistan as flood effects continue to be felt. Closed transport network causing shortages of vital supplies.


Below is an article published by The Dawn Blog:


Over a 100 people have died in Gilgit-Baltistan due to the floods that have ravaged the country. For over 12 days now, Gilgit and the surrounding districts have been cut off from the rest of the country as the roads leading to the valley are closed due to landslides. The five main bridges that link to the region have been swept away by the fierce torrents, leaving the locals and visitors in complete isolation.

According to Ms Nurulain, an ex-adviser for education, women’s development and social welfare, who is currently in the area, all roads to Gilgit are closed and supplies are running out fast. There is no petrol, gasoline or diesel available for purchase which makes the situation even worse since the residents have been without power for a few days now. With a fuel shortage, people are cautious about running their generators and even cooking food. Due to food scarcity, some people are also slaughtering their own animals in an attempt to survive against the odds.

The Army has been blasting some of the irrigation channels to prevent further flooding, but it seems not much is working. As recent as August 11, at least 40 people were killed in Gilgit town due to landslides.

Emma Varley, a medical anthropologist whose area of research examines the impact sectarian conflict in northern Pakistan has on maternal healthcare in the region, is also currently in Gilgit. “There is no water, no electricity, barely any milk, no meat, no cylinder gas to cook – basically everything has collapsed,” said Varley in a phone interview with Water supply is extremely short, with many resorting to using tap water which has been polluted by sewage water, leading to dysentery, especially among the children.

Varley who visited the District Headquarters earlier yesterday (August 11), said that although there were still medical supplies available, there was no way of sterilising equipment (unless there’s an emergency operation) since even the hospitals were low on fuel supply.

 “The Army and the local government have been trying to help out as much as possible, but the scale of the disaster is beyond their control,” said Nurulain in a phone interview with There’s a daily C130 flight in and out of Gilgit (weather permitting) with food and medical supplies, but there is still a long list of people waiting to be airlifted. PIA also has two flights daily, but due to the weather, the flights are being cancelled. This only adds to the misery and frustration of the people who are also unable to access ATMS or withdraw cash due to no electricity in the region.

Varley, opines that since the civilian government is not doing much to alleviate the situation and due to a shortage of supplies, a black market of sorts has emerged where people are willing to buy fuel for any asking price.

According to estimates given to the locals, it might be at least a month before things resume to normal and the residents have access to the nearby towns and villages. Until then all they can do is wait.