Swat is beautiful and this beauty also caused disaster for the people in last year’s floods. You may be wondering how? Let’s go ahead and see.
From the very first day, wherever I go in the mountains of Swat, the same question about the buildings here comes to mind, should it be in this place?
Before coming here, I was passing through Gilgit-Baltistan and I also kept watching videos in which entire hotels in Swat and Kalam were washed away with water during floods.
I was under the impression that maybe only a few hotels were built in the wrong place that would have been destroyed. I arrived in Bahrain with this impression.
Yes, I met Dr. Shah Mohammad in the city. He is a homeopathic doctor and also a well-known political and social activist of the region. Most of the people in Bahrain Valley know him.
Dr. Shah Mohammad told me that ‘there are many villages till now, whose connection with the lower areas has not been restored through roads.’ I decided to go in that direction first. I wanted to see how the people there were raising the necessities of life.
I also have a question in my mind that if someone falls ill there, can they reach the hospital on time. How dangerous will this situation be for pregnant women? But with all this, I mainly want to know how the roads ended up in this area and what was so difficult that they could not be rebuilt after so long?
We started our journey up the Daral River from the city of Bahrain towards the mountains. There was a paved road for a few kilometers but then suddenly the road would end. By finished I mean finished completely.
The road that was on the mountain on the other side of the river has also been washed away and the bridge connecting the two has also gone. A small water storage dam is built here, providing water for a power plant in Bahrain below.
A lot of people are gathered here. Some are carrying goods on their backs and some have brought goods from the mountains above which they are loading on the vehicles parked here. Fruit patties are more visible in them. People have traveled many hours to reach this place by carrying these packs on their backs.
Homes that were once close
Khurshid Ahmed is also included among these people. Now they are going back to the village. His house was not far from here, but now it is.
He told me that ‘by the way, it used to take me five minutes by motorcycle or car from here, but now it will take an hour.’
On the way back, they luckily don’t have much luggage, but among those going up in groups with them are many people with sacks of rations, tents for the children’s school, and heavy bags of other supplies.
The beginning of this long journey is dangerous. These people first have to cross the temporary wooden bridge several feet long and high which was built by the people here with your help after the flood had passed. The bridge will be just two feet wide.
Hospitals that go away
On my way to his village with Khurshid Ahmad, I was about to cross this bridge when we saw some people coming from the front carrying a stretcher-like thing on their shoulders. Khurshid Ahmed said that it is a patient.
These people were carrying it on their shoulders from many kilometers away. A stretcher was made with the help of cloth between two pieces of wood. My next question to him was, what if a pregnant woman needs to be transferred to the hospital for delivery?
Khursheed Ahmad says, “This is how they are also transferred.” He had personally gone through this torture. In the 2010 floods, his wife also died because she did not reach the hospital for delivery on time.
At that time too, the bridge and the road were broken and the route ended. When he reached the hospital several hours late, it was difficult to save his life.
Khurshid Ahmed says he does not know how much longer the people here will have to live without a road like this.
On the way home, Khurshid Ahmad also showed me the only school in the village for children, which had been rebuilt just two years ago after being washed away in the 2010 floods. This time the flood had washed away his yard.
How was Khurshid Ahmed’s house saved?
It took us an hour to reach Khurshid Ahmed’s house. They have built their house on a little higher ground. That is why he survived. Otherwise, most of the houses in their village were destroyed.
It was dark when the flood was passing through here. It was such a loud and terrible sound that I cannot describe it. The whole ground was shaking. Some of the neighbors from below had come to my house above because my house is built on a little height.
For Khursheed Ahmed, the decision to build a house at a height proved beneficial. There is a slope on the side of their house that could have been prone to landslides. To balance it, they have built a check dam on it. In this method, the land is divided like stairs.
Khurshid Ahmed told me that because of all these measures, his house and livestock were mostly safe.
Those whose houses were very close to the river below were destroyed. The road that was built after the 2010 floods was also not very high.
The wall that was built along this road to protect it was also swept away by the flood. Here too I had the same question in my mind that should this road, these houses and the school be down here? Could they have been built a little higher during the project?
Looking at the example of Khurshid Ahmad’s house and the area in general, it seemed that they could have been built on a higher ground.
Why aren’t houses built higher?
After returning from Warsheed Ahmed’s house, we proceeded towards Bahrain city. I wanted to see the bazaar that was overlooking the river during flood days.
It is the main bazaar of Bahrain. A little before where it begins, the Daral River comes from the west and joins the Swat River coming from the north.
Along the Daral river there are hotel buildings on both sides and on one side of the Swat river there are also hotel buildings. The water of the river has only been allowed to run against the mountain on one side and the lower floors of the hotels on the other.
Here his pot will be barely 15 feet wide. There are also constructions where the two rivers meet.
Dr. Shah Muhammad told me that when the flood came, a small dam had been built at this point ‘because the water of the two rivers had joined together and there was a narrow way forward.’
Dozens of hotels in the bazaar through which the floodwaters of the Swat river passed have been destroyed.
As soon as you come out of this bazaar, the river Swat is directly in front of you. He’s coming straight at you.
This makes it clear that all these hotels are basically built on river land. Whenever there was a big flood in the river, the water had to come this way. The question here is how these buildings were allowed to be built here?
“No one asks here.”
This view is not only of Bahrain, but a few kilometers from here to the north, a beautiful Mankyal valley comes.
Here, Ehsanullah had built a hotel by spending three crore rupees about six months before the flood. Now there is only empty plot in this place. The rainwater from above swept away their hotel and several other buildings in a flash flood.
Ehsanullah says that approval of any government body is not considered necessary before constructing any building here. There is no such system here.
I had the same question with Ehsanullah that why did he build the hotel at the bottom when he could have built it on the higher side.
Ehsanullah said that at that time the water flowing in the canal was a thousand feet away from this place. “We didn’t even think that there would be so much flood and there is no such system here that someone would tell us that we cannot build here. If it was forbidden, why would we build it, why would we harm ourselves.”
Also read this
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How Wajid Ali, a young man from Swat, built a ‘bridge between life and death’ in just 48 hours?
How do illegal constructions on the banks of the river in Swat become a threat?
Where to leave our land, who will give us a place?
Ehsanullah is not alone. Jannat Khan is among those whose house was swept away by the flood. In 2010, his house was also washed away. After that he rebuilt it there. Then drifted away.
Jannat Khan told me that he had no other choice. What should we do except where our land will be and where will we go? Who will give us space?
They have only one room left. Their neighbor’s house was completely destroyed.
They say that they are aware that it will be harmful to rebuild the house here but they don’t have enough resources to go elsewhere and buy land and build a house there. This land was also found cheap because it was dangerous. No one was buying.
When the government officials come, we tell them that if you give us space, we will build it. We don’t have enough resources ourselves.’
What does the beauty of Swat have to do with destruction?
Down here in the Bahrain Valley, the large houses destroyed by the Daral River were built on or very close to the land of the river. According to the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa River Act, no construction can be done within 200 feet of the river.
But from what I saw, wherever the flood damaged buildings, this rule was not followed. After seeing all these buildings, one gets the answer to the question of why people build in places where there is a risk of damage.
The beauty of Swat draws tourists here. The economy of this area runs on tourism. Hotels try to make the most of it. Hotels are built closest to the river to give tourists the ‘best view’.
The room with the river right below the window will fetch the highest rent. Thus, other industries related to hotels also stay close to them. As a result, roads and bridges also come down. It seems that the possibility of flooding is not kept in mind while building, and this is the major cause of flood destruction here.
Is it even possible to build a long protective wall along the river?
No protective walls were seen at many places around the river to protect the population here. He did the best work where he was. A prominent example of this is the Nowshera plain of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
When I left Charsadda and went down to Nowshera and went to the banks of the Kabul River, I smiled uncontrollably. It was the smile that comes when your idea is confirmed in action.
Seeing the several kilometers long paved wall on both sides of the Kabul River confirmed my two ideas that one is that it is possible to build such a long wall and the other is that this method is also effective. Due to this wall, this time the flood damage in Nowshera was reduced.This meant that this method could be adopted in other places but I didn’t see many places. Even where a protective wall was built, due to lack of proper planning, it was washed away with the flood.
Why did all this water go down into the Indus River?
The Swat River enters the plains of the province from Charsadda and a little before Nowshera it joins the Kabul River but before joining Kabul it breaks through the Munda headworks at Charsadda.
Two main canals originate from the Manda headworks that irrigate a large area of the Peshawar valley. The collapse of the Hedorx cut off their water supply.
Floods also breached the headworks in 2010. Interestingly, this time the Munda headworks and the lower Charsadda and Nowshera areas could have been saved from flooding if the Mohmand Dam under construction five kilometers above the Munda headworks had been completed.
This dam was planned in the year 2000 and it took 19 years to start the work on it. It has not been completed yet. If it was a dam, millions of cusecs of water coming into the Swat river could have been stored and this water would not have gone down to the plains and caused havoc.
This time, there was a lot of rain in the catchment area of Kabul River. All the water of the river Swat also got involved in it. All this water joined the Indus River at Attock through the Kabul River.
The Indus river took all this water down towards Punjab, but did the flood water of Sindhu cause more damage in the lower Punjab? To see this, I entered the province of Punjab from here.