Tourism sector is once again reeling from the impact of rain-induced floods
he tourism economy of Swat valley took a hit at the very beginning of the business season this year due to flooding caused by heavy rains.
On April 18, a heavy downpour caused flooding in the Swat River’s Daral Khwar stream and affected hotels and shops in the Bahrain Bazaar.
Last year’s devastating floods had already washed away the bridge on Daral Khwar, Bahrain, which was a vital link that provided travellers access to the picturesque Kalam valley, a major tourist attraction in Swat. The bridge has still to be repaired.
The other route, a road link from Bahrain to Kalam was lost in the recent rains. Many tourists who had come to Upper Swat to celebrate Eid with their families were stuck in the area as were the residents of Upper Swat.
The residents of Swat recorded a protest in Mingora City to express their dismay over the situation. They demanded that the authorities step in to clear the roads and repair the bridge. The protesters stressed the need to expedite work on Bahrain-Kalam road.
The tourism season started early this year because of the Eid holidays. Many people, however, cancelled their plans to visit Swat valley following the rain-induced floods.
Uzma, a 21 year old from Peshawar, said she and her family cancelled their plans to visit Swat over the Eid holidays after she received a text message on the situation from the government.
“Recent heavy rains, in upper Swat. The Kalam road is closed due to floods in Bahrain. Avoid travelling on the Swat River route,” read the cautionary message.
Rooh-ul Amin, a resident of Charsadda, who visited Swat with some friends, had a similar experience. Amin said that he and his friends had been planning on visiting the Kalam valley. However, they had to cancel the plans after the locals confirmed that the road to Kalam was not in a good condition.
Syed Niaz Ali, the owner of a hotel in Kalam, estimates that compared to last year the number of tourists has dropped by at least 80 per cent.
“Reconstruction of the hotels damaged by floods last year has been started. The main problem is that the Bahrain-Kalam road is in a state of disrepair. That discourages tourists from visiting,” says Ali.
Located halfway between the Swat and Dir districts, Kumrat valley, another tourist destination, also received fewer visitors this year.
Tahir-Ullah who works as a manager at a hotel in Kumrat valley, says the number of people visiting the valley has sharply declined.
“Last year, the tourism season started in May. We didn’t have a room to spare. This year, it started earlier, in April. As of now, only two people have booked a room,” the manager tells TNS.
Tahir-Ullah attributes this drop in footfall to damaged infrastructure that has still to be repaired. “The road from Thal to Kumrat is in a dilapidated condition. The valley has become hard to access. Nobody wants to visit Kumrat these days,” he complains.
Tahir says many hotel owners have decided not to open their guesthouses and lodges this season. “When tourists stop visiting, the owners are unable to meet the operational costs. They have to make the tough decision to shut down,” he explains.
Azmat Akbar, the chief executive officer of a tourist company, and the owner of several hotels in the Kumrat region, agrees with Tahir-Ullah.
“Kumrat and Kalam, two of the most attractive tourist destinations in Malakand division, began facing a crunch after the floods, last year,” says Akbar. He says these tourist spots have been ‘practically abandoned.’
“The revival of tourism in Malakand division is not possible without reconstruction of the infrastructure. The repair work is key in re-establishing connectivity and making these areas more accessible,” he adds.
“After last year’s floods, I lost Rs 10 million,” says Akbar, “We are sure we’ll be running into a loss this year too. We are trying to assess the damage,” says Akbar.
“The loss of tourism-related amounted to Rs 9.5 billion after last year’s floods,” estimates Zahid Khan, president of Swat Hotels Association.
“Last year, the floods washed away parts of the Bahrain-Kalam road. The bridges leading to Kalam were also damaged,” says Khan.
“The tourism season has already started. However, some of these routes have still not been restored,” he complains. “If the repair work is stalled, it can cost us billions of rupees this year too,” he warns.
The setback is felt, not just by the hotel owners but also by other people associated with Swat’s hospitality sector. Service providers, drivers, tourist guides, porters, local handicrafts industry, trout fishermen and small business owners are just some of the people whose livelihoods are at stake.
The tourism industry in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa received its first shock during the Covid-19 pandemic. It was still reeling from the aftermath when floods inundated the province, last year and caused large-scale devastation.
The weather patterns and recent rain spells indicate that climate change is among the major challenges the tourism sector will have to adapt to.
Swat, Dir and Chitral are three districts particularly vulnerable to climate change. Nestled in the Hindu Kush mountain range, these areas are regularly struck by flash floods, glacial lake outburst floods (GLOF) and land sliding.
Dr Mohammad Nafees, chairman of the Department of Environmental Sciences at the University of Peshawar, points out that climate change is not a recent phenomenon. “Two decades have passed since we started experiencing the adverse impacts of climate change in Pakistan,” says Nafees.
Nafees says, “Climate change has a major impact on mountainous areas. Storms, flash floods, avalanches and landslides affect tourism negatively.”
The writer is a multimedia journalist. He tweets @daudpasaney