The forgotten humanitarian crises: urgent needs of disaster-stricken Chitral, Pakistan

Damaged derelict bridges are a danger in Chitral

A heartfelt blog from Syed Harir, member from JAD Foundation, Pakistan, on the forgotten humanitarian crisi in Chitral, Pakistan, and the failure of the government and the humanitarian sector to ensure that aid and reconstruction plans do not ignore the same communities, again and again.

The world is witnessing the highest level of humanitarian concern for the first time in the 70-year history of the United Nations, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has convened the World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul on 23 -24 May. The United Nations Secretary-General has called for humanity—people’s safety, dignity and the right to thrive—to be placed at the heart of global decision-making. To deliver for humanity, stakeholders must act on five core responsibilities.

But while thousands of humanitarian champions are reaching Istanbul for this unique World Humanitarian Summit, half million people in the mountain region of Hindukush in Chitral live under constant grip of socio-economic, emotional, physical and psychological shocks during the last year.

My heart is truly bleeding and my eyes are full of tears. I feel guilty not being able to support the innocent children/students dying owing to damaged roads, dilapidated bridges, contaminated water and malnutrition. Hundreds of students have no access to education because they lost their school in flooding and an earthquake. During the current week, three young girls lost their lives to a dilapidated bridge in Chitral. Bibi Shehria, Nasreen bibi and Atia bibi fell off a dilapidated bridge, while trying to cross it on return from school, in a tragic incident in Salandur, upper Rech village some 170 km in the extreme north in Hindukush region in Chitral. The bridge they were crossing over 10 months had been damaged in last year floods, and had not been repaired despite of repeated requests of the communities to the relevant authorities.

Similar incidents are common. A girl student of class twelve along with her father also lost their lives last week while crossing another dilapidated bridge damaged in the flooding of last year in Kushum village, upper Chitral. A jeep fell down to the river in Kosht when the dilapidated bridge that was constructed by the government collapsed, but had not been reconstructed after a year. In another case, 10 students were killed on their way back home after attending their annual exam from Susum Karimabad Chitral, when an avalanche hit them. It took about two months to recover the dead bodies of the students. Could you imagine yourself waiting two months to recover the body of your dead child?

Up to 28 government schools and 12 private schools/colleges were destroyed in the recent flooding and earthquakes and have not been repaired since, more than one year ago. The temporary arrangements to link the roads now again vanished due to increased volume of water in the streams owing to the melting of glaciers and snow. The roads and bridges washed away in the recent increased stream water, and the valleys are disconnected, bringing increased food insecurity, scarcity of medicines, and no access to health and education facilities and the supply chain of essential goods.

Over the past decade, more than 300 people lost their lives, over 2,500 injured and almost the entire population of the district are homeless as a result of 29 disasters. Overall, all the people of the district have been affected by disasters in many ways. The total economic loss of two events in Chitral during the year 2015 worked out to be around 11.375 billion PKR, while the accumulated damages of one decade is 17.519 billion PKR. Recurring small-scale and slow-onset disasters predominantly affect communities and households, and constitute a high percentage of all losses. The challenge is particularly severe in the marginalized, remote and landlocked areas, as they are both more likely to be affected and less able to cope with the impact of disasters. Poor governance and the substantial growth of population and assets in areas exposed to natural hazards are the major causes of increasing levels of disaster risk.

protestersAs a result, people are agitating, protesting against the corruption and malpractices of both relief agencies and the government across the district. They are threatening to migrate to Afghanistan and other neighbour countries. Political parties are also joining the protesters, due to the failure of the government with the rehabilitation and reconstruction of critical infrastructure in Chitral. And the people of Chitral will approach the Court of Justice, if any single casualty occurs owing to post-disaster response due to the failure of the State.

The disaster risk governance in Chitral is a living example of poor governance and lack of capacity and capability of the government from local to national level, but also of humanitarian and development practitioners. It seems that no one feels responsible for the protection students, the passengers risking their lives when travelling on dilapidated roads, the people using contaminated water with serious impacts on human health, the food and livelihood insecurity, the students without schools. People are still living in shelters, and thousands of people in the dark without electricity for more than a year. Where is the moral, ethical, professional and humanitarian self-accountability system in this world? What are we doing at the expense of humanity? Are we accountable to Almighty God for our deed or actions, or we just accepting our failure to His mandate?

Our honourable Prime Minister has visited Chitral twice recently, to assure people of a complete reconstruction within one year. I will say to my political leadership: please consider carefully what you say, before making any commitment at the highest level that will raise unnecessary expectations from the public.

But foremost please review the overall disaster management system in a country that has completely failed to respond to one single of its districts. Else, leave the marginalized mountain people with no basic humanitarian rights, and with no voting power, at the mercy of God. Please no more exploitation of the sentiments of the innocent children, women and the rest of those suffering in Chitral. Please do not raise expectations, so you do not bring upon us yet another challenge regarding our security. We are already under serious threats of national security.


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