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Landslides, flash floods on KKH must be an eye-opener for CPEC planners


April 17, 2016

ABBOTTABAD: Although the recent closure of the Karakoram Highway (KKH) for 15 days at a couple of places in Kohistan district was caused by massive landsliding and the recent earthquake of 7.1 magnitude on the Richter scale, the landslides coupled with flash floods are enough warnings for the planners of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) project.

Since it was built, KKH has been prone to heavy landslides and is closed many times in a year. The Frontier Works Organisation (FWO) is tasked to maintain this international highway that connects Pakistan to its northern areas of Gilgit-Baltistan and its neighbour China.

Due to the rugged terrain, high altitude and many other factors, it is next to impossible to redesign or realign KKH from Thakot to Bhasha. Hence the CPEC projects have proposed reconstruction and upgradation works on the National Highway N-35 and the KKH. The frequent landslides should be a constant source of concern for the CPEC planners as the landslides are expected to cause road closures in future too.

If road closures caused by frequent landslides persist as frequently as today, then this is the time to address this issue. The main cause of the landslides is massive deforestation in Kohistan area over the past three decades. The mountains in Kohistan are still shaky due to the fact that explosives in huge quantity were used to construct the KKH in the early 1970s. Huge boulders also fall on the KKH occasionally and cause damage and long blockade.

The region falls on the seismic fault line and is prone to earthquakes. The earthquakes of 1974 in Pattan in Kohistan district and the 2005 tremors wreaked havoc in the region. Sudden flash floods have frequently been hitting the KKH during rainy season in upper and lower Kohistan. Massive deforestation, which continues unabated, has ruined the ecosystem of the area. Land erosion, a direct result of deforestation, often generates flash floods after even short spells of rain in the mountains.

As a result, small bridges and parts of KKH are washed away every year. Many small and medium size powerhouses also get damaged. Many precious lives are also lost due to flash floods and landsliding. The long-term solution to check landslides and flash floods is afforestation in the region and curbing deforestation on a war footing.

Chief Minister Pervez Khattak seemed well aware of the causes inflicting human and material losses in Kohistan when he blamed and admonished locals for cutting forests during his recent visit to Pattan, Kohistan. Previous governments used timber cutting permits as a political bribe to local maliks and politicians.

In order to protect and preserve KKH – part of the vital CPEC – it is imperative to dismantle the timber mafia involved in illegal wood cutting and smuggling. At the same time, the afforestation drive must be started in the watershed areas at the earliest. Otherwise, it is feared that the Kohistan belt of KKH and CPEC will remain prone to flash floods and landslides that block the highway at various points for many days.

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