Written By: Zubair Torwali

Had the Pakistan Army not been present in Swat then we would still have been walking miles to fetch some food. In the aftermath of the floods a man of Utror had to walk 70 kilometers to fetch the food for his family. In a period of four months the army in Swat was able to make a jeep track from Fatepur to Kalam in addition to the transport of food with the help of choppers.

The influx of a larger number of tourists and their vehicles this year to upper Swat; and consequently the misery and infliction of the tourists and the locals due to rubble they call road took me five years back when Swat was worst hit by the floods in the last week of July 2010, the worst of its kind after the one happened in the First Century AD.

The forest experts say where there grows deodar (Cedrus deodara) the monsoon doesn't happen there but when it gets there it brings nothing but devastation.

The Swat Valley has three natural landscapes namely the lower Swat, the upper Swat and the Swat-Kohistan. The local experts of weathers and seasons say monsoon doesn't occur in the lower Swat and Swat-Kohistan. The Lower Swat is the part from Landakey, where the district boundary meets with the Malakand Agency, to Charbagh including the Mingora City and the district headquarters, Saidu Sharif. The Upper Swat is beyond Chrabagh up to the town of Fatepur whereas the Swat-Kohistan is the narrow valley beyond Fatefur and includes the valleys of the tourist destinations, Madyan, Miandam, Bahrain and Kalam.

The local wisdom also guides us regarding floods and says when in Swat the summer rain falls on pockets there will be no imminent floods except a few cases of flash floods in the gorges which gets the more deluge. They are true as we often see the rainfall in Swat Valley usually in pockets — in some places there is intense rain whereas in other areas it remains dry. This is quite common in summer here in Swat. But exactly five years back — on July 27, 28 and 29 in the year of 2010 — this was not the case. Then the entire Valley experienced a deluge of almost same intensity from Landakey to the hills of Kalam and Utror.

It was a very wet evening of July 27, 2010. I was at the home of one of my close friends in Bahrain. Cellular phones were still intact, and the electricity was also available because of the grid station near Madyan. By that evening the continuous rainfall had completed 15 hours and the tributaries of the Swat River had already gushed. The bridges over these streams were still standing but the powerful outflow beneath them had started dismantling them.

Usually, Bahrain-Kalam road is repaired with mud prior to the high days of tourism in the area in summer but after that the locals are left in the lurch for the harsh and long winters. Thanks to Pakistan Army that it doesn't allow the road to be blocked by avalanches in winter otherwise it used to be blocked for months before. None but the Army also does the repairing work on the road in summer.

It was late in the evening when I got excessive calls from Kalam yelling, “Kalam was drowned”. It was an obvious signal that the Swat-River beyond Kalam had flooded and the torrent would soon engulf each and everything downstream whether these were villages, bridges, roads, land or bazaars. There was no forewarning of the floods in Swat as then the disaster management mechanism was virtually defunct. It was so after the ‘rehabilitation’ of damage done by the October Pakistan-India Earthquake in 2005 which had ravaged AJK, Islamabad and larger areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Desperately I tried to send text and call friends in Islamabad and other cities. By then the electric infrastructure in the floods-hit areas was no longer functional. My good friends in Islamabad connected me to the US based Urdu radio which was perhaps the greatest source of both information and entertainment during the ‘entertainment starved’ years prior to the floods, during the high days of the Taliban in Swat. My live conversation on the radio helped many locals in Swat-Kohistan know the havoc the floods were playing with us all.

The torrent grown more ferocious by the gushing tributaries of Mankiyal, Kamal, Gurnaal, Daral and Ulaal, came after devastating Kalam drowning everything on its way. It washed away the villages of Mankiyal, Kedam, Bahrain, Madyan, Damana, Qandeel and Piya in Swat Kohistan; along with damaging the road from Fatepur to Utror—a road of 70 kilometers. Over hundreds suspension and other bridges were completely destroyed. Only a single bridge near the Ayeen village miraculously survived the floods. This was the main means of crossing the Swat River in the entire area. I was stranded at the friend’s house for more than two months because my house is on the other side of the river.

These were the most torturing days for majority of the people of Swat. This and similar torrents in the Panjkora River, Chitral River, Kandhiya River et el went downstream disrupting the plains of Charsada, Nowshera and down to Punjab and Sindh. This year a similar torrent is being witnessed in the Chitral River but one hopes the other rivers, say tributaries of Kabul and Indus River, may not follow the course. To hear the ‘dagger floods’ — floods in hilly areas come like a dagger cutting lands, hills and whatever comes in its way — is one thing but to actually experience is something more dreadful and reminds the poetic lines ‘nature with bloody frets’. I saw how multistory structures collapse. I witnessed how the beautiful mosque in Bahrain usually known as Rock Mosque collapse. I saw how gushing rivers wrestled at confluences.

It is now exactly five years since the severe deluge in Swat. Whether Swat especially its beautiful part Swat-Kohistan has been fully restored is a question which still haunts us. Had the Pakistan Army not been present in Swat then we would still have been walking miles to fetch some food. In the aftermath of the floods a man of Utror had to walk 70 kilometers to fetch the food for his family. In a period of four months the army in Swat was able to make a jeep track from Fatepur to Kalam in addition to the transport of food with the help of choppers.

A 24 kilometers portion of this road could only be reconstructed last year with the assistance of the Asian Development Bank whereas the larger portion — from Bahrain to Kalam — is still in rubble. A total of 13 damaged schools were rebuilt just this year with the support of the Swiss Development Cooperation. Similarly a number of bridges were erected with the support of the UK department of international development (DFID). The latter has reportedly cut short its further assistance because of the ‘too politicized dimension’ of the bridgework. It is said the DFID did so because the political leaders want to leverage political mileage from the aid.

Usually, Bahrain-Kalam road is repaired with mud prior to the high days of tourism in the area in summer but after that the locals are left in the lurch for the harsh and long winters. Thanks to Pakistan Army that it doesn't allow the road to be blocked by avalanches in winter otherwise it used to be blocked for months before. None but the Army also does the repairing work on the road in summer. Given the tremendous tourism potential of the valleys of Kalam and Bahrain, there should have been two roads to the area on both sides of the Swat River beyond the town of Madyan. But given the cruel urban centered ‘development’ and the myriad callousness of the public offices the prospects of such a project is bleak; and to demand that is living in a fool’s paradise even though Swat is a real ‘paradise’ to many like me.

twitter: @zubairtorwali Skype: zubair.torwali.pk
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