The monsoon rains are a time of dread in the valleys. I am trying to complete certain projects before the autumn harvest in between floods and the jeep track being broken. It never used to be like this, but now we live in era of climate change. It is not a myth. It is very real.
I had returned to Birir in late April. It had taken me weeks to travel back to my home. Every time I called the house, it was pouring. The plastic had been swept off the roof and water had dripped down the walls. My family had returned at the end of February so that the children could go back to school. We had debated whether I should go with them, but I was waiting for funds from the UK and from the provincial government for projects. They allowed me to return the following weekend.
Three days after I arrived, we had raging thunderstorms starting in the late evening, and that night the Gol which runs below our house and past the school flooded. I woke up to the sound of a loud background machine churning. The Kalash liken the sound to the roar of a dragon, but this sound was not coming from the bowls of the earth.
Unprecedented at that time of year, it roared out of the Gol into the main river with such force that it actually went up river and hit Guru suspension bridge, tilting it and cracking the foundations of the pillars.
Fields were washed away, and retaining walls tumbled – except the one that belonged to our school, and a couple more down the Gol.
When the water hit the main river, it divided into two, the right stream flowing down the jeep track, just missing the village flour mill but washing away part of the forest cottage. The jeep track was broken in four vulnerable places making it inoperable for many days.
This made it difficult for people to journey to Chitral. It created problems for transporting my patients and obtaining medicine. Ultimately, we needed to get in food supplies; that we did through Afzal, my Chitrali driver, linking up with my Peshawar driver to help us stock up on all the important food items with letters, newspapers and money for me.
Climate change has come to the valleys with a vengeance. The year 2010 saw catastrophic floods in all three Kalash valleys and surrounding areas. Fortunately, we managed to get the World Food Program up there to distribute food. My own charity also plunged in to help provide basic food staples. WWF even provided some saplings. But fields were washed away along with some houses in Bumburet and Rumbur.
In 2013, there were very bad floods again in Rumbur – fields, irrigation channels, a school and a new bridge were washed away.
This is a pattern which if continued will really bring disaster to the valleys.
The destruction of the forest on the mountains has led to soil erosion. In our village of Grubinasar, that night, as the flood roared along the Gol, mud and water poured down the hillside and inundated the houses. A hole was made in one of the cattle houses and many houses were made wet and miserable looking. Verandas were wet with mud.
[quote]Every time I come into Birir at night, I usually meet a jeep loaded with timber going out[/quote]
For years we have been fighting the cutting of the forest, but not only the timber mafia and forest department turned deaf ears to our warnings, but so did local smugglers. After all, what would just one more tree cost the environment?
Every time I come into Birir at night, I usually meet a jeep loaded with timber going out. Sometimes it is genuinely firewood, but sometimes in the middle of those dead logs are young green trees. Also people are cutting live Hollyoak trees which grow on the lower slopes. This will spell disaster for villages and houses which nestle below the mountain ridges.
The day after the flood, I met with some of the leaders of the local community. They all agreed that the cutting must be stopped. I sent a report to the government, after which action has been taken: the export of illegal wood out of the valleys has been banned as has been further destruction of the forest; a programme for reforestation has also been promised. Hopefully the government will be able to deliver on these promises. What is also needed is reforestation on the higher slopes with cedar and the lower slopes with Hollyoak, thereby protecting the villages which lie beneath.
Lack of income generation is the cause of smuggling, so it is imperative that children are educated so that they can get worthwhile jobs, not only in the valleys but outside in Chitral and other towns.
Both the army and the police are now doing their best to control the smuggling, including going up into the edges of the jungle at night.
If there is a concerted effort to stop the illegal transport of wood out of the valleys and retaining walls are built by those who really understand how and where to construct them, the worst aspects of flooding might be controlled.