The Kalash dragon roars again…

As flood pulverises Chitral, Maureen Lines fears homelessness for the valley's population

The Kalash dragon roars again…
Disaster has struck again in Chitral and the surrounding valleys. I learnt about it after managing to get out of Birir last week. Since then there have been thunderstorms in the valleys, with catastrophic floods pulverising Bumburet and Rumbur.

For thirty-five years I have preached, spoken at seminars, pleaded with the government and written articles about the destruction that will be caused by deforestation. Government officials, timber mafia, and smugglers have been more interested in lining their own pockets – as is the case the world over.  They couldn’t care less about tomorrow or for the future of their offspring.

Then there’s climate change, due not only to deforestation, but fracking, the burning of fossil fuels and the pollution caused by motor vehicles. Instead of the government investing in clean transportation, such as electric trams or railways, millions are spent on ugly flyovers providing even more space for even more vehicles!
Five years from now, are we all going to be refugees?

Forest reforestation, as done in Dir some ten twelve years back, is showing shambolic results. And we don’t have another ten years or twelve years. We don’t even have another five!

Due to deforestation and climate change, this year’s tail end of monsoon rains has been most destructive. Houses have been washed away or inundated with flood waters, bridges and roads also have also been badly damaged. Electric hydropower stations have had their water channels completely destroyed or the station swept away.

People in Rumbur have been without drinking water as pipes have been destroyed or the springs contaminated. Residents have to climb up high onto the mountains to travel to Ayun to buy food.

Fields have been swept with flood waters and most standing crops have been destroyed. A new phenomenon is the increase and intensity of landslides.

Floods are not new to the Kalash valleys. They are spoken of in their mythology as the dragon roaring. But no local mythology describes landslides!

Most fields are completely filled with water with the crops gone
Most fields are completely filled with water with the crops gone

Five years ago, when the Gol below our house flooded, we only had our own house to worry about. Then the next year I was aware of the water coming down the mountainside behind our village Grubinasar.  Then the next year I saw mud.  This year the houses have been inundated with mud and water, fields washed away, goat houses broken, irrigation channels washed away. What will happen five years from now?

The twelve-century-old village of Guru lies beneath an almost bare mountainside, with what were hitherto very narrow rivulets running down.  I have watched them each year becoming wider trails of water. The same goes for the village of Ooeri, a little downriver where I had my first home with the Kalasha.

The government is interested in making Guru the first protected Kalash area from a cultural point of view.  How can we protect it from being buried in a landslide?
Time is not on our side

International or army engineers need to be called in to assess the danger. It may well cost millions. Last year, an old village in Bakakshan was buried beneath a landslide, along with all the inhabitants. Is the Pakistan government going to allow this to happen to Guru and other villages in the Kalash and Chitral area?

My own village, home and the school we are building in Birir are under threat.  Who do we turn to?  Five years from now, are we all going to be refugees?

A massive reforestation programme must be initiated and a ban on goats must be implemented in those areas. Speed is pivotal. The government has already waited too long to implement the reforestation programme. Disaster and emergency relief is now a priority.  So far, only the army has acted quickly and with some efficiency. River and land protection walls, along with irrigation channels, are a priority once roads are open.

A few years back I joked that the entire length of Birir River needed protection walls on both sides. This time I am not joking.  But professional walls, not C&W cement monstrosities which crack because of too little cement.  I and my workers had river training many years ago by a German engineer staying with me in Birir.

Only organization experts in such enterprises should implement the projects. If the rivers have properly constructed retaining walls and before the spring and monsoon rains sandbags are also put in place, maybe, just maybe, we all stand a chance of surviving. But if I were a betting person, I would not put my money on the table.

My knowledge of animals (the four footed variety) has shown me that they do not foul their own nest. Can the same be said of man?