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Paradise Lost and Neglected

By Imtiaz Gul

Weekly Pulse ,April 22, 2011

The construction of road for the small village of Jarray near Madyan is a telling comment on the perfect illustration of slow political and bureaucratic response to the devastation that the floods caused last year; comprising about 120, if not more, households with very small farming plots, the entire the raging Kunhar river swept it altogether in early August, including the road that connects Madyan and Mingora with Bahrain and Kalaam. 

The flood waters receded within a month or so but the construction work – cutting of the hill – began a month ago. That too with just two excavators at work. 

“Are there only two machines available in Pakistan,” quipped the taxi driver Shah Zaman, complaining of the criminal delay in reconstruction work as well as the official and political apathy towards the Swat-Kohistan region comprising five five Union Councils – Bahrain, Mankial, Balakot, Kalam, Utror.

Zaman uttered these cursing words as we drove through the upper and largely drier part of the Kunhar River. The mainstream nearby was, on April 18th, already gushing following heavy rains the night before. Coupled with the snow-melt, the mainstream would inundate the smaller, still dry part of the river-bed and thus probably block the only passage between Madyan and Bahrain. 

On the face of it, nothing but the official apathy and tedious procedures are responsible for this snail-paced reconstruction, something, say locals, that should have happened last year immediately after floods.

The road from Bahrain to Kalaam – hardly 35 kilometres - offers a similar is story. 

Ironically, the total stretch that needs immediate reconstruction and repair between Madyan and Bahrain is not more than three kilometers; what comment does the authorities deserve when they cannot restore key links not more than three kilometres collectively even after over eight months.

The urgent need for reconstruction of the vital link between Madyan and Kalam also emerged as the primary issue at a meeting of over 100 elders drawn from the give union councils mentioned above. Despite heavy rains and extremely cold conditions, these community elders traveled all the way from places as far as 40 kilometers to attend the Jirga, at an under-construction hall of a restaurant in Bahrain. Open to the Kunhar river from one side, the hall offered little respite from the close to zero-temperature and the roaring noise of the river. The delegates, anxious to ventilate their frustrations and anger, were all ears as speakers highlighted their grievances on April 19th.

We don’t exist for Peshawar (the provincial government), nor does the federal minister for communications know that the flood also swept the entire road to Mankial and leaving a community of some 5000 stranded, thundered an emotional Zareen Gujjar from Mankial, Balakot.

Organized jointly by Idara Baraye Taleem-o-Taraqi (IBT), Bahrain and the Center for Research and Security Studies (CRSS), Islamabad, the Jirga was extremely critical of the governmental and non-governmental humanitarian and rehabilitation strategies. They unanimously quoted the hitherto infrastructure particularly the damaged road to the tourists’ destinations as Bahrain, Kalam, Utror, Ushu and Madyan as an example of the incompetence of the government. The government could not restore the road (N-95) from Chirkri (Fatepur) to Kalam for all kind of traffic in spite the lapse of more than eight months since the floods in the area in July 2010, they pointed out.

All speakers were unanimous that besides the rehabilitation of road communication, provision of agricultural inputs, restoration of health and education facilities were the issues that needed immediate attention.

Former provincial minister Malik Mohammad Didar bemoaned the apathy of public representatives towards the simmering but pressing issues facing people. Members of parliament representing these areas should have raised their voice for us all. Unfortunately, they have been a failure and indifferent, he said. Habibullah Khan, ex- Nazim union council Kalam and Malik Khurshid, a notable from Bahrain underlined that the government as well as NGOs should focus on sustainable development and work on long-term strategies.

Social worker and educationist Mr. Khaista Gul reported that that even the High School Bahrain, destroyed by the 2005 earthquake, still awaits reconstruction which underlined the fact that the destruction caused by the flood was yet to be attended to. In his comprehensive report Khaista Gul presented that more than 30 % of the primary schools in the area are non-functional (ghost) due to the lack of proper check and monitoring. He even took the participants aback by disclosure of the fact that a higher secondary school in the area (Higher Secondary School, Mankiyal) is virtually non-functional as the staff does not perform its duty.

The speakers unanimously picked up 20 representatives from the five union councils to constitute a Jirga which they decided would lobby with the provincial and federal governments for acceleration of reconstruction. It was the result of the five hours of deliberations during which it emerged that individual or political-based lobbying was not enough to press authorities for addressing pressing problems of the region.

As a first step, the meeting decided, Jirga members would soon travel to Islamabad to convey their issues to federal parliamentarians and officials.

But as a whole, the trip to Kalam and Bahrian was extremely depressing; absent roads, vital missing bridges and school buildings, damaged or destroyed hotels presented a gloomy picture and offered a sad comment on the slow pace of rehabilitation. While governments in Peshawar and Islamabad fork out billions for decorations of official residences , expensive cars, and receive treatments abroad, the poor of Swat Kohistan remain vulnerable – totally at the mercy of mother nature.

The writer heads the Centre for Research and Security Studies, Islamabad

Email: imtiaz@crss.pk