Chitral district of Khyber Pakhtun khwa province is the land of more than 36 valleys leading to Afghanistan, Gilgit-Baltistan, Dir and Swat districts. Each valley in Chitral has its own distinct and diverse but fragile ecosystem which in either way vulnerable and appealing to the visitors, policy makers and national/international development organizations to minimize its vulnerabilities.
In June 2011, I had an official assignment to undertake a survey regarding Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN) Response and Early Recovery Program after floods of 2010 in Chitral. I visited five main valleys i.e. Yarkhoon, Parabek, Beghust, Shishikoh, Karimabad and some other villages of Chitral.
It was amazing while entering in a new valley and noticing that something was there with a smiling face of ecosystem to welcome to the visitors. I had opportunity to enjoy the valleys and to get information on geographic and socio-culture settings. But I was more concerned about my assignment by getting data on current situation of the flood affected people, their infrastructures and livelihoods. For my personal learning I observed some expected risk and vulnerabilities to the livelihoods of the people due to the adverse affects of climate change/variability.
During my travel to the valleys I saw many glaciers, beautify flowers and culturally enriched inhabitants. The glaciers in the valleys of Chitral are main sources of subsistence agriculture and livelihoods for upstream and downstream people of the country. The glaciers of Chitral are also main source of water for the few provinces of Afghanistan. Terichmir being the highest snowcapped peak of Hindukush mountain range in Chitral is monitoring the retreating glaciers of Chitral by standing high with altitude of 7690 meter. Glaciers are retreating very fast due to global warming and human mobility near the glaciers.
I don’t want to describe my detailed travelogue here in this topic. But it will be unfair to be silent and to hide the secrets of natural beauties, life and expected vulnerabilities in these valleys. However, I appeal to all the respected viewers to visit the valleys its glaciers, rivers, flowers and dwellers being an environment friendly tourists.
The lash green fields of beans, blossoming fields of potato crop and curving beds of tomato in Karimabab, Garamchashma, Parabek and Begusht are major cash crops for farmers’ prosperity and boosting the economy of the country. People in these valleys are hardworking, peaceful minded and have developed the trend of entrepreneurial culture as traditional practices of farming have been shifting towards cash crops.
Looking towards the forests in Shishikoh valley is amazing and frustrating. When you get closer to the forests of Shishikoh you clearly hear voices of these forests. The forests are crying, requesting and falling down with huge voice and remained silent. The forests are asking to mankind “I am your source of livelihoods, mother of flora and fauna, safe guard of environment, prevent natural disasters and give you much more. Let me grow up, maturity and natural death”.
But forest degradation in Shishikoh valley is very fast, green belts of forest are gradually disappearing and supplementing flash floods. Livelihoods of the people in Shishikoh mainly depend on forests. Govt. officials, policy makers and law enforcing agencies are silent speculators while timber mafia is depleting green trees in forests.
Yarkhoon is the largest valley in Chitral having large numbers of glaciers; tourism potentials and mountains with unexploited mining deposits make it a resourceful valley. Travelling in the rocky and rough roads of was little a bit tiring but the natural beauty of each village is giving refreshing and rejoicing moments. God has blessed a lot of natural resources to the people of the Yarkhoon valley. But life among high mountains has always been challenging by depending on subsistence agriculture, seasonal labor and meager employment. Local people are still unaware about their untapped natural resources while outsiders are expanding their business to the area through leasing the natural resources.
The devastating flash floods of 2010 damaged the infrastructure and livelihoods of the people of the country. The valleys of Chitral have also been affected by the floods and heavy rains. Roads, irrigation channels, bridges, cultivable lands, orchards and houses have badly affected in the valleys of Chitral. Relief and rehabilitation is still in progress and majority of the infrastructures have been rehabilitated through self help, donor funded programs and public sector organizations.
However, in most villages people and their infrastructure are still vulnerable to flash flood, erosion by rivers and heavy rains. Market access road for Karimabad, Garamchahsma, Begusht, Parabek and Yarkhoon is most important for local products i.e. potato, beans, tomato, fruits and mining resources. Some villages in the valleys i.e. Izgh, Sarghoz, Dubargar,Hassanabad, Murdan, Chunj, Greenlasht and Junalikoch are most vulnerable to erosion due to increased level water in the rivers.
The Govt. agencies, donor funded development organizations, Local Support Organizations, Civil Society Organization and communities have work together and to mobilze its resources to minimize the magnitude of the risk and losses in the vulnerable areas.
Our legislators, policy makers and law enforcing agencies have to minimize the vulnerabilities of people and to hear the cry of the forest to ensure the food security and livelihoods of the local communities against the adverse affects of manmade and natural disasters. It is time to act now to save our valleys, communities, livelihoods and infrastructures. — Ihsan Uddin, AKRSP Chitral, 12 July 2011.