Month: September 2010

Gilgit-Baltistan: Success stories of poverty alleviation, economic development and education in the rural areas of GB

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Success stories of poverty alleviation, economic development and education in the rural areas of Gilgit-Baltistan could serve as a tried and tested, successful model for developmental planning in the rest of the country.

After the end of feudal system in the early 70s and establishment of the Northern Areas Council, the people of Gilgit-Baltistan for first time ever got the right to elect their political leaders. This finally gave them an opportunity to exercise their role in development through active participation.

NGOs stepped in to offer support to people in terms of poverty alleviation, education and awareness. In early 80s, after collecting donations from various international financial institutions and the government, a new socio-political system of NGOs, the government and village organisations emerged for planning and development of the region.

The first challenge was to motivate and organise villagers. This could only be achieved through grass root institutions ensuring their participation in a democratic, transparent and accountable way to identify their problems and to provide solutions with collaboration of the government and NGOs.

A half of the total cost of the development project was collected from the villagers. The idea was to ensure participation and to inculcate a sense of ownership for the project which they would have to maintain once it was in place.

Traditionally functioning irrigation canals were widened as dangerously steep rocks were replaced with relatively sustainable concrete and cement channels. As water reached villages, traditional crops and fruit plants with low yield were replaced with crops of relatively high productivity and resilient seeds which included cherries from French Alps, apples from southern heights of Beirut, potatoes from South American Andes and Canadian wheat.

Among domestic animals Kashmiri sheep, Shimshali sheep and Chilasi goats, known for their high productivity of milk and meat were introduced and dispersed into the whole region for breeding. An interesting initiative was the breeding of the domestic cow with yak from Hisper, Shimshal and upper valleys of Baltistan to get a hybrid offspring with grazing characteristics of the yak at rocky heights in cold temperatures, yet being easily tameable like a farm cow. A long hybridising process followed in five stages to get the best of both species.

In the first stage a male yak is crossed with a domestic cow, the offspring is called zo (male) zomo (female). To get the second generation, zomo gets crossed with a male yak and gives birth to a tol (male) or tolmo (female). In the third stage, the tolmo is crossed again with a male yak to obtain the gar (male) or garmo (female). Finally, the garmo and male are cross bred and the calf born to garmo is called a hulk (male) or hulkmo (female); considered the best hybrid of the yak and cow for milk and meat.

The milk of hulkmo is fatty and yellowish while the meat is in between that of a yak and a cow. The hulkmo can graze in high terrain and lives in cold environs. Being comparatively less wild than previous generations, it is suitable for farming.

The yak being an endemic specie of Hisper and Shimshal pastoral highlands in the Hunza-Nagar district and rocky terrains of Baltistan region, farmers of the region took their time to replace cows with hulkmos while a few initially tried it on an experimental basis.

But now one can see yellow milk coming from hulkmos in villages of Shinaki and Minapin where people call it the bepeye zaat (yak race in Brushasky and Shina).

Value addition fruit packaging programmess were also introduced. Apricots were previously scattered on big rocks and rooftops to dry where the wind and rain would darken their colour. They are now dried using sulphur smoke and covered in plastic which protects them from insects and dust and the original colour is retained.

Gardens of apple and cherries are spread over hundreds of acres. After being hygenically dried and packed, apricots and cherries from Gilgit-Baltistan make their way to national and international markets.

Recently at a super store in Berlin, I proudly bought a100g mini-pack of dried apricot under the brand name Hunza-Apricot which costs 2.50 Euros. I cannot express how happy I was to see a product of my village competing in the global market, all the way in Germany.

Courtesy: The Dawn

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Gilgit-Baltistan: AKCSP receives Unesco Award of Distinction for restoring Gulabpur Khanqah Skardu

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SKARDU  (September 30, 2010) : The Gulabpur Khanqah in Shigar valley, Skardu, Baltistan was recently awarded the 2010 Asia-Pacific Award of Distinction in Cultural Heritage by Unesco. For nine consecutive times, the Aga Khan Cultural Service Pakistan (AKCSP), which is the operational arm of the Aga Khan Historic Cities Programme (AKHCP) of the Aga Khan Trust for Culture (AKTC) in Pakistan, has won a Unesco Asia Pacific Cultural Heritage Award for its conservation efforts in Gilgit-Baltistan.

The more prominent awards won earlier being for Baltit Fort in Hunza and Shigar Fort in Baltistan. A total of 33 entries, from 14 countries in the region, were submitted for consideration. The conservation project entries included museums, hotels, cultural institutions, educational institutions, religious sites, industrial sites, public institutions, residential buildings, urban districts and islands.

From 2008 to 2009 the conservation and rehabilitation of the Gulabpur Khanqah was carried out by the Gulabpur community who contributed around 40 percent of the total costs in cash and kind, with AKCSP providing technical advice. Financial assistance was provided by the German Embassy in Islamabad.

The conservation project of Gulabpur Khanqah – a mosque with meditation chambers – has saved a unique historic monument which served as the long time centre of social, cultural and religious activities for the surrounding communities. The project demonstrates the inclusion of yet another building typology in the grassroots conservation movement already active in Shigar. “A great sense of commitment was demonstrated by the Gulabpur community, which makes the project an exemplar of community-led architectural restoration undertaken with a view toward sustaining living cultural traditions,” said Salman Beg, CEO – AKCSP upon receiving the award.

The 331 year old Gulabpur Khanqah is located in Gulabpur village sited on the western bank of Shigar river about 10 km upstream of its confluence with the river Indus near Skardu. The monument is accessible through the link road of Arandu valley, which is the main tourist attraction due to the Chago Lungma Glacier and the Golden Peak.

The Khanqah displays typical architectural features of Baltistan, among which the double roof with the classical Tibetan tower on top is most salient. The building is characterised by cribbage walls, as well as impressive wooden pillars and a painted wooden ceiling inside the prayer hall.

Courtesy: Business Recorder

Gilgit Baltistan: Fulbright alumni chapter established at KIU

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Gilgit: The Gilgit Baltistan Fulbright Alumni Chapter has been established at Karakoram International University, keeping in view the growing number of senior alumni who have joined KIU (and expected joining of returnees). The Vice Chancellor Prof. Dr. Najma Najam, Fulbright Alumna (1975-1980: MA, PHD, 1995-1996: Senior Fellowship, and 2005: Visiting faculty) was nominated as President, and Ms. Samina Khan (Alumna 2006) as Secretary. The first meeting of the chapter was held at KIU. It was attended by Prof. Dr. Najma Najam, Dr. Iftikhar un Nisa Hassan, Dr. Francis Anderson, Dr. Saeed Awan, Dr. Salma AK Durrani, Siranjam Baig and Ms. Samina Khan.


The Alumni welcomed the Prof. Dr Francis Anderson, and Alumnus to KIU and thanked her for making a special effort to come to Gilgit for training teachers in ART therapy. The Alumnae’s believed that Dr. Francis’ visit would be first step towards the series of her and even other Fulbright Alumni to Gilgit. The meeting also appreciated the new program initiative which focuses on bringing US Fulbright specialists to Pakistani Universities.

Courtesy: http://www.usefpakistan.org

Gilgit-Baltistan: People displaced by the swelling Attabad lake face severe crisis and upcoming winter

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“Nobody paid attention to our problems after the floods hit Gilgit-Baltistan. We have been living in camps for the past eight months,” complains Mohammad Zafar, a resident of Attabad, who lives in a camp set up in Hunza by the government and various NGOs, to house about 166 people displaced by the formation of a large lake in Attabad caused by landslides.

“How long will we have to live in camps like this? Our children can’t go to school, our businesses have closed and our lands are suffering,” Zafar says in frustration, adding that the government has yet to arrange alternate housing and compensation for him and his fellow villagers.

People who have been displaced by the swelling Attabad lake faced a second crisis when massive flooding hit the area in August. Anger and resentment are rife in relief camps where residents feel that their needs have been sidelined in the face of the floods that have crippled one-fifth of the country.

At least 19 people died in the massive landslide that struck Attabad early this year. The landslide blocked the Hunza River’s path and created a lake which, over the next few months, expanded up to 23 kilometres upstream. At least five villages — Ainabad, Shishkat, Gulmit, Hussaini and Gulkin — were swallowed up by the lake as it swelled.

After the landslide, the government, along with aid agencies like Focus Humanitarian Assistance and the Pakistan Red Crescent Society, immediately shifted over 2,000 residents of Attabad and other villages to camps in Hunza. Then, In June, when the lake threatened to reach full capacity and burst its banks, the government evacuated over 20,000 people from 36 villages downstream and shifted them to camps in Gilgit. The landslide also blocked the Karakoram Highway, a vital trade link to China, cutting off 26,000 people in the Upper Hunza Valley.

Asif Khan, an NGO worker in Gilgit, is frank in his estimation that the unprecedented floods could further delay the rehabilitation of the displaced people. “The devastation caused by the floods is much greater than the havoc caused by the lake — but still, the government should not underestimate the concerns of the Attabad lake IDPs,” he says.

Farman Karim, another resident of Attabad who, along with his family, lives in Altit camp in Hunza says the recent rains and floods further worsened life in the camp. “Water was everywhere, our children and women couldn’t go out to play or work. We remained confined to our camps for over a week,” he says, adding that a massive blackout triggered by the breakdown of hydel power projects compounded the miseries of camp residents. “Camp life turned into a nightmare,” he recalls. Electricity in Gilgit-Baltistan was cut off for over a week in August after floods swept away three major hydel power projects — Naltar, Guro and Kargah.

Karim came down hard on local politicians for being ‘ineffective’ during the nine-months between the floods and the landslide. “We recently demanded that senior minister Mohammad Jaffer resign because he failed to honour a commitment that he made to us in July,” Karim says, adding that residents of Attabad still stand by their demand.

In early July, hundreds of affected people had called off their protests in Hunza after Mohammad Jaffer assured them that he would use his influence to increase their compensation. The government had offered Rs500,000 to each family that lost land to the overflowing lake. The victims had rejected the compensation, saying the amount was negligible.

For their part, government officials in Hunza said that they are fully alive to the needs of the displaced people. “We have procured over 150 canals of land for the IDPs of Attabad and they will soon be rehabilitated,” says Zafar Taj, the deputy commissioner of Hunza-Nagar. He says that most of the people who had been evacuated from villages downstream as a precautionary measure in June had been repatriated recently. “The evacuation was a precautionary measure to ensure the safety of the public, but the situation is now satisfactory,” Taj says.

Taj agrees that flooding in the region had somewhat overshadowed the Attabad lake issue. “It was natural. If a bigger calamity emerges, our focus is shifted there to overcome the crisis.” He says that the government had offered each family Rs600,000 as compensation initially but later the Gilgit-Baltistan government increased the amount to Rs800,000.

The floods have definitely taken their toll on an already ravaged region, as district government official Iqbal says that around 4,000 people are currently homeless and live in camps, including those displaced by the Attabad lake.

According to official statistics, the floods damaged over 370 villages and 947 roads in Gilgit-Baltistan. Approximately 183 people were killed and hundreds injured in landslides during this time. Over 2,820 households were affected by the landslides that also washed away 5,000 heads of cattle. The floods also swept away 182 bridges in Gilgit-Baltistan, severing ties between villages for over one month and sparking a food crisis. In the agriculture sector, about 70,000 kilometres of land and 504 channels were affected or damaged.

After the floods, Gilgit-Baltistan’s Chief Minister Mehdi Shah had told the media that the total loss suffered by the region amounted to around Rs12 billion. However, the announcement had little or no effect on the jaded residents of Attabad and other villages that were submerged by the expanding lake months ago, because they had already been living as refugees, in camps or in their relative’s houses.

In fact, other victims of landslides in the region fear they will face the same fate as the residents of Attabad, because rock slides have begun blocking streams and rivers across the region, intensifying flooding. Mustafa, a resident of Chilas, says that Gaise village was completely submerged after a landslide following the floods had blocked a stream. “Out of 300 houses, no house in the lower Gaise village remains intact,” he laments. “We can only pray that we are spared from similar disasters in the future.”

Courtesy: The Express Tribune, September 26th, 2010.

Gilgit-Baltistan:Tons of relief goods meant for the flood-affected people of G-B in the G-B House in Islamabad

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GILGIT: Tons of relief goods meant for the flood-affected people in Gilgit-Baltistan (G-B) have been sitting in the G-B House in Islamabad for over a month and have started to rot, sources said on Sunday.

The relief goods donated in the first week of August have not been transported to the area due to the negligence of officials concerned.

Cooking oil, flour, sugar and other edible items are reported to be among the donated items. Insects are now said to have attacked them and according to a source, theft can also not be ruled out.

The rotting items have started to smell, making it difficult for people to stay in the G-B House. Local politicians can stay at the house at concessional rates.

In August, philanthropists and well-meaning individuals including an adviser to the Governor Mian Shafqat, had donated over 500 bags of flour, cooking oil and other items which were stored in the G-B house as a landslide had blocked roads to Gilgit.

According to sources, Gilgit-Baltistan Chief Minister Mehdi Shah had been informed of the problem and he had requested that the goods be sent to Gilgit via C-130.

According to the National Disaster Management Authority, hundreds of C-130 sorties had flown into Gilgit-Baltistan since August, transporting relief goods and rescuing stranded people in the area.

However, food items at G-B House were not transported, resulting in the decay of perishable food that could have helped hundreds of families facing starvation in the wake of the floods.

Courtesy: Express Tribune, September 27th, 2010.

Gilgit-Baltistan: Sectarian clashes cloud flood devastations

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GILGIT: Gilgit was still reeling from the devastation caused by the floods when it was engulfed by sectarianism, which has diverted attention away from relief and rehabilitation needs.

Police, rangers and even the army was, at times, pulled back from flood-stricken areas and re-deployed to Gilgit to quell the violence that had left four people dead in 24 hours during mid-August. The government, headed by the chief minister, focused on violence in an attempt to ‘nip the evil in the bud’, instead of highlighting the severity of flood destruction. The floods and landslides have killed nearly 200 people in Gilgit-Baltistan. But the media has concentrated on violence rather than the miseries of the people on the verge of starvation. Already paralysed due to lack of fuel and food, the threat of ambush from rival sects has further curtailed people’s movements.

Courtesy: Express Tribune, September 5th, 2010.

Gilgit-Baltistan: Illegal weapons from Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa

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GILGIT: As part of a deweaponisation strategy, the Gilgit-Baltistan (G-B) government has decided to intensify monitoring of vehicles and body searches of all passengers entering the territory, sources said on Tuesday.

“We will have to pay more attention to Karakoram Highway (KKH) as it is the main route,” said an official. While on Chitral side, strict checking will take place in Ghizer District, he added.

“The strength of police forces could be increased if need arose,” the official added.

Weapons are illegally brought in to G-B from Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and are then sold in various parts of the region at a premium. “The arms trade gains momentum and traders earn a lot overnight when the situation in the region gets volatile,” the source said, adding that the rival sects buy arms and ammunition from the traders to keep a stock with them as clashes often breakout.

According to sources, thousands of bullets were fired in the air last week as two sects traded gunshots that lasted over three hours in Gilgit.

Despite dozens of check posts on KKH, the practice of trading arms goes unchecked, even though body searches at various places en route to Gilgit are common.

Gilgit is also accessible from Chitral via Shandur, where trade can possibly take place. Officials said that appropriate attention has also been paid to this route to stop the unlawful practice.

Gilgit-Baltistan Speaker Wazir Baig voiced concern on Tuesday over the influx of arms and ammunition into Gilgit, saying that unless the illegal smuggling of weapons is checked, Gilgit cannot be deweaponised. “A reward and punishment system should be acted upon strictly to eradicate this menace from society,” he said, adding that he has informed the chief minister of the issue as well.

Courtesy: The Express Tribune, September 1st, 2010.