COMMENT: Destruction of the angry glaciers —Nizamuddin Nizamani
The monsoons of July 2010 have deprived the people of everything in Swat, in the north and Sindh downstream. People have lost everything of worth required by humanity, agriculture, livestock, homes and health, safety and security as well as self-esteem
While watching children play with the partially melted Osho Glacier of Kalam on July 27, 2010, I could not foresee that these injured glaciers are going to inflict an unprecedented catastrophe on the country the very next day.
On completion of our family vacation in heavenly Swat, while returning on July 28, we were stuck in Madeen due to damaged bridges, and remained stranded for about a week. We decided to observe and investigate as to why the Swat River in connivance with dozens of torrential rivers — locally called darals — triggered a devastating chain of destruction that still continues to unfold its mind-boggling consequences in terms of heavy loss of lives and collateral damage.
Starting with Osho, Gabral and Atror Glaciers in Kalam, the mighty flood waters show no bounds and continue to ravage almost all the four provinces, while washing the agriculture and economy of the country away.
The current losses and its future consequences are yet to be calculated. However, the reasons for the flood include unexpected synergy of natural events as well as ill planned human tampering with the natural ecosystems simultaneously.
First, according to the local people, there was abnormal hot weather in the valley from July 20 to 27 that led to the glaciers melting and icy water started flowing in the normal streams.
Second, the timber mafia illegally cut large areas of forested land, while leaving logs on the mountains to be smuggled out at some suitable time. Extensive logging of the woods expedited the glaciers melting.
Soft snow on the glaciers attracted large number of tourists and their off road vehicles that resulted in the tearing of the glacier bodies. We saw water tunnels under the snow where the Osho Glacier had partially broken.
Third, according to some reports a rare formation of eastern and western monsoons took place and collided on the Pakistan-Afghan border and caused the heavy downpour.
Fourth, the heavy rains from July 27 to 30, brought billions of gallons of water that fell heavily over the broken glaciers, turning them into powerful hill torrents loaded with a large number of cut logs and home structures, as well as with mud and stones that attacked the villages and towns with the force of dozens of bulldozers.
Fifth, the tampering with the natural river flow by man is equally responsible for this destruction. Encroachment on riversides as well as inside the Swat River formed major obstacles and man made structures created bottlenecks at many spots. The fast flowing water needed smooth routes to cross.
But as ill fate would have it, in Kalam, Bahrein, Madeen and other towns, the Swat River has bends and the hill torrents fell near these bends. Unfortunately; as in the case of Bahrein, the people built Bilal Mosque on the very joining spot of Daral and Swat River.
We were staying in Hotel Deluxe next to the Masjid Bilal. We witnessed rising muddy water full of tree trunks constantly strike the mosque and in a few hours inundating the mosque.
Due to this obstacle rainwater tore down the roads and started touching the basements of the surrounding hotels and business plazas, including our Deluxe Hotel during the late evening.
No one could assume that the water level would rise to 40 feet higher than the normal flow and no one could think that in a few hours this water would raze the hotels.
Beyond our comprehension at around 10:00 pm we were warned to evacuate the hotel as a safety measure and we left the hotel in a panic that reminded us of the sinking Titanic.
Most of the hotel guests like us preferred to stay in our vehicles parked on higher ground. Heavy rain and darkness did not allow us to see what was happening around the river. In the morning we took shelter in a house and went to see the river.
It was simply mind-boggling. The skyline and landscape had changed. All the hotels including Delux, Aabshar, Decent, Imran Pearl, etc, and many plazas were simply washed away and the swollen river was flowingover these properties. People told us that large numbers of the guests were not lucky like us and they lost their parked vehicles and all their belongings and had to evacuate the hotels barefoot, in order to save their lives.
Everyone was shocked and trying to come to terms with the situation. Mohammad Yaqoob Khan explained that he never faced a situation like this in his life.
The destruction caused by the angry glaciers reminds me of the warnings issued in the report ‘Mountains of Concrete’ by Shripad Dharmadhikary regarding the potential melting of glaciers around the Himalayas and Hindu Kush Mountains that may cause heavy floods for about four decades and then they will be finished for good. God forbid these floods can recur again during the coming years. Are we prepared to encounter such threats in the future? No one knows.
The monsoons of July 2010 have deprived the people of everything in Swat, in the north and Sindh downstream. People have lost everything of worth required by humanity, agriculture, livestock, homes and health, safety and security as well as self-esteem.
The flood victims from Swat to Sindh need immediate attention of the world community for immediate rehabilitation.
Swat seems especially vulnerable and has just recovered from the Taliban insurgency. The government of Pakistan, the UN, USAID and other international bodies must realise the gravity of the situation and should come forward to estimate the loss of lives, property, livelihood, infrastructure, and take short term and long term steps for rehabilitation and normalisation of the social fabric, lest it is too late and becomes a more costly affair in terms of governance and social stability.
The writer holds a master’s degree in social sciences and is a professional trainer, researcher and peace activist. He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org