Saturday June 22, 2024

Helpless in Shimshal

By Ali Rehmat Shimshali
January 16, 2022

The people of Shimshal – especially women – face numerous problems including lack of communication, transportation, and access to quality healthcare, education, and potable tap water.

Healthcare, education, communication, electricity, water, and economic opportunities are the basic human rights guaranteed by the constitution of Pakistan as well as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). These rights should be provided to the people by the government without any discrimination and political considerations.

Unfortunately, the current scenario in the peripheries of Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) and Chitral is alarming. Valleys in these areas such as Shimshal, Chupursan, Ishkoman, and Broghil are home to Wakhi-speaking people who are facing huge problems and lack almost all the necessities of life.

There is a wide spectrum of issues in the health sector in Shimshal. In 2015, the Shimshal Class-C dispensary was upgraded to a basic health unit (BHU) with 10 sanctioned posts of doctors, nurses, watchmen and other staff members. The building of the BHU has been constructed, but no staff has been hired yet. Its doors are still locked.

It is unlikely that the health unit will open for the community in the near future. With regard to healthcare, the Shimshal village has neither the availability of essential life-saving medicines and equipment nor qualified doctors or trained nurses. The vacancies under PC-IV have still not been filled.

Villagers risk their lives and take their patients to Hunza, Gilgit or Karachi for even minor treatments where the state of public hospitals is not much different from that of Shimshal. Harsh weather, dangerous roads and economic burden multiply the woes of the people.

In Hunza and Gilgit, doctors are rarely available at DHQs, BHUs, and dispensaries. Laboratories in these areas are capable of performing only a few tests. What is even more frustrating is the fact that hospitals in these regions are in a dismal state.

There is an urgent need for the authorities to make the Shimshal BHU operational on an urgent basis and ensure that staff members are hired in a timely manner and that these health units have an adequate supply of sufficient medicines and other equipment. Timely steps will help ease the burden on the people.

When it comes to road infrastructure, the village needs the immediate attention of the authorities. A main and busy thoroughfare ‘Shimshal Road’ is one of the most dangerous and disaster-prone roads which always remain unstable. The 50km road is in a dilapidated condition, broken and unrepaired at many points from Shimshal to the Karakorum Highway (KKH), at Passu. Only eight road labourers were recruited by the Public Works Department (PWD) for the road’s maintenance. The staff worked manually throughout the year with inadequate equipment, food, and other facilities.

Purk Zhrehk is a treacherous stream posing great danger during the summer, forcing people to cross the stream on foot in the cold water to get the vehicles through. Sometimes people fail to cross the stream and end up spending the whole night under the sky.

Since the completion of Shimshal Road in 2003, the PWD has failed to construct a single bridge at Purk Zhrehk or build an alternate road on the other side of the Shimshal River.

Whenever the swollen river or stream or avalanches wash away or block the road, people remain stranded on both sides of the blockade and have to pay double fares to change vehicles and reach their destination. It takes weeks – even months – to restore traffic on the road after going through the process of sending requests and applications or by spending huge amounts on sending delegations to meet PWD officials or elected representatives, shuttling between departments.

Some corrupt PWD officials prefer that the unequipped road maintenance workers or the community open the road as it is so that they can put the money meant for repair in their pockets. To some extent, community representatives are also responsible for this as they force volunteers and boy scouts to work voluntarily, instead of pressurising PWD officials to perform their duties.

Even currently, the road has been blocked by a landslide for the last few days due to the heavy snowfall in the area. It is impossible to remove the huge boulders and debris to open the road without heavy machinery. It is shocking that the PWD hasn’t sent bulldozers to open the road. The department must recruit more maintenance workers and provide adequate funds and equipment for the maintenance of the road.

Another major issue faced by the people of Shimshal is lack of potable tap water. Although the community has managed to provide tap water to the people in the summer with the help of some donors, the taps and pipelines remain frozen for at least five months during the winter.

Shimshal is perhaps the only valley in Hunza where people are still deprived of a proper tap water system. Women are compelled to fetch drinking water in old fashion – from far-off rivers and streams. They carry 35-litre gallons of water on their backs during storms, snow, rain and shivering minus 20 Celsius degrees. The water available in the summer is hard and unfit for consumption which needs further tests to analyse its fitness for drinking purposes.

The GB government should provide these basic needs to the community of Shimshal, Chupursan, Ishkoman Broghil and other backward valleys.

The writer is a project assistant at the Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI), Islamabad. He can be reached at: