Learning Through Experience: Swat Floods 2010

Written By: Zubair Torwali

There were no roads and people from the faraway villages had to walk all this distance. There was scarcity of rations in every house but many people did not care about that and opened their Bethaks and Hujras for the wayfarers. In the village of Chikri the locals would treat these people warmly and with impressive care. The people of Madyan, Bahrain and other villages would bring food from their houses to the village mosques where most of the wayfarers would stay. This was the time when one fell greatly in love with his people. This spirit of sacrifice and care is symbol of Pakistani people and society.

The specie of homo sapiens is resilient but not that sapient. If they were they would have curtailed the climate change which is a bigger threat to the human race than the World Wars.

 

If oral traditions are of any worth, the elderly people tell that they had never noticed such irregularities in the weather in the past. They tell stories of more snowfall each winter than we get now. They say summers were colder in the past. They warn us from their indigenous intuition not to encroach a riverbed or the territory of a stream because, they say, a river or stream will one day reclaim its territorial sovereignty.

 

Homo sapiens is a greedy specie, too. They add a greater value to land ownership. Land plays an even greater role in the lives of agrarian society. Its value becomes higher than the value of human life in many cases.

swatflood2010.jpgThis is common everywhere; and Swat is not on Mars either. If the people of Swat had learnt any lesson from the worst ever floods in the valley exactly seven years ago, they would have never reconstructed the huge barriers in the way of Swat Rivers and the tributaries which were washed away by that hair-raising and extremely unusual deluge in the valley on July 28 in 2010.

 

Exactly seven years ago, I saw the beautiful three-storeyed mosque, built on a rock at the junction of Swat River and the Daral stream in Bahrain, fall to the torrents. I saw trucks, buses and cars float on the water like paper toys. I saw the hotel opposite to the black rock in Bahrain fall like a feather, which was one of the few hotels of old Swat.

 

On the night prior to July 28, 2010, I was constantly in contact with people in the upper valleys of Kalam, Mankiyal, Utror, Kedam and Mitiltan.

 

There was one voice to everybody’s wailing. “Kalam fell”, “Mankiyal fell”, "Utror no more on earth”, “Chail Valley devastated”, so on and so forth.

 

Much havoc was done on the night of July 27. The remaining damage was done the next day. The beautiful and cleanest bazaar in Bahrain, often called the Mall Road by the locals, was deep in water, mud, sand and wood logs.

 

Soon after flood in 2010 in Swat, many humanitarian organizations rushed to this area and tried to provide basic relief to the affected people. Among state institutions Pakistan Army was on the forefront to rescue and relieve the people from this suffering. Pakistani soldiers not only saved the lives of stranded people but also provided them free rations, medical aid, timely evacuation, and later reconstructed the destroyed bridges and roads.

Seven years back, the deluge washed away the entire road from Utror to Fatehpur devastating the bazaars on the way to Kalam, Mankiyal, Bahrain and Madyan. Many villages in Utror, Kalam, Mankiyal, Bahrain, Madyan, Chail Valley and other fell to the floods. Almost all the bridges across the Swat River were washed away except a wooden bridge in Ayeen and a portion of the Red Bridge in Madyan. The side valleys of Chail, Daral, Gurnal, Kedam, Mankiyal, Ushu and Gabral, except that of Darolai and Ramet, also roared and brought huge piles of rubble of boulders, trees, shrubs, mud and sand which added to the torrent of the Swat River flowing in between high mountains.

 

The road from Fatehpur to Utror was about 75 kilometers which was completely destroyed by the floods. Almost all the bridges over the streams to villages across the Swat River were washed away. Only one bridge in Ayeen village was miraculously safe.

 

This meant people of these areas had to walk 70-100 kilometers in the rough terrain to get some food for their children from Chikri, a place where the road leaves the riverbank and runs among the orchards. Rations could be delivered to this place only as the main road of Swat was intact up to this place only. I myself was stuck at the house of a friend in Bahrain town because all the five bridges to my village across the river were no more.

 

As mentioned earlier that hilly streams roared everywhere except Darolai and Ramet. This is not because some saint or sage lived in these villages. The simple reason was that the people of these villages had stopped leasing their forests and pastures to grazers. Because of the embargo on grazing in these forests and pastures the seedlings grew into herbs, shrubs and trees covering the land which would become resistant to flash flooding.

On the morning of July 29, 2010, everybody in this 75 kilometers long valley and adjacent valleys found themselves helplessly stranded. Additionally, there were thousands of tourists stuck in Kalam, Bahrain and Madyan. They had taken refuge at the homes of the locals. Stocks of rations were soon finished as majority of bazaars were no more in existence.

 

A person from Utror had to walk for a full day to Chikri, a nearby village in Fatehpur, in order to get some food for his stranded family.

 

Many agrarian people have not given up the values of hospitality and caring. There were no roads and people from the faraway villages had to walk all this distance. There was scarcity of rations in every house but many people did not care about that and opened their Bethaks and Hujras for the wayfarers. In the village of Chikri the locals would treat these people warmly and with impressive care. The people of Madyan, Bahrain and other villages would bring food from their houses to the village mosques where most of the wayfarers would stay. This was the time when one fell greatly in love with his people. This spirit of sacrifice and care is symbol of Pakistani people and society.

 

No doubt this was a time of intense agony but we also saw proud examples of resilience, mutual help and support. This behaviour usually emerges in time of calamites and is greatly laudable. But our lack of understanding of risk reduction and disaster management leads to chaos during such natural disasters.

 

Soon after flood in 2010 in Swat, many humanitarian organizations rushed to this area and tried to provide basic relief to the affected people. Among state institutions Pakistan Army was on the forefront to rescue and relieve the people from this suffering. Pakistani soldiers not only saved the lives of stranded people but also provided them free rations, medical aid, timely evacuation, and later reconstructed the destroyed bridges and roads.

 

Afterwards many humanitarian organizations came to the area with their interventions on rehabilitation and the impressive strategies of ‘disaster risk reduction’. Along with them quite a number of international organizations started their rehabilitation work through their national implementing partners, IPs. They introduced strategies such as ‘cash for work’ and ‘food for work’. They would give cash or food to the villagers in return to their work of reconstruction of their destroyed pathways. Given the poor image of our people these strategies were fascinating but the counter impacts these ventures left on the people were of dependency and degeneration.

 

Among all these interventions the causes of the floods were never analysed. The locals would justify the havoc as wrath of Allah for their ‘sins’ whereas many opinion makers in the mainstream regarded it a certain geological conspiracy by the Americans.

 

As mentioned earlier that hilly streams roared everywhere except Darolai and Ramet. This is not because some saint or sage lived in these villages. The simple reason was that the people of these villages had stopped leasing their forests and pastures to grazers.  Because of the embargo on grazing in these forests and pastures, the seedlings grew into herbs, shrubs and trees covering the land which would become resistant to flash flooding. 

 

This area, sometimes referred to as Swat-Kohistan, is rich in precious forests and pastures. The local people usually lease these pastures to herders of sheep and goats. They graze their animals on these pastures and forests during summers. This causes irrevocable damage to the new and existing plants turning the pastures and forestlands into dust. The sustainable mitigation of the risk of floods in such areas is to grow more plants and protect the existing ones. 

 

After the floods we wished that the government would put some restriction on construction near the riverbeds and banks; or at least, the people would realize the risk. What we see is quite opposite. The people not only began to reconstruct their buildings but also encroached the riverbeds. The rehabilitation by the government was very slow. Schools and other public buildings destroyed by militants during the Swat insurgency were rebuilt but such buildings destroyed by the floods could not catch the eye of the government to date. The ruined road from Chikri to Bahrain was rebuilt but the 36 kilometers road beyond Bahrain is still in rubble causing scores of accidents each year. It is still that track which was made by Pakistan Army in 2011.

 

The writer is a journalist based in Swat.

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