Living with Unexpected Inaccessibility in Gojal, Northern Pakistan: A Case Study of the Effects of the Atta Abad Landslide

Department of Geography




Living with Unexpected Inaccessibility in Gojal, Northern Pakistan: A Case Study of the Effects of the Atta Abad Landslide

 On January 4th, 2010 a massive slope failure blocked more than two kilometres of the main Hunza River in the Gojal region of northern Pakistan to a depth of about 120m. The slide also destroyed three kilometres of the Karakoram Highway (KKH), the main transportation route connecting this region to the rest of Pakistan. Nineteen people were killed in the landslide, and most of Atta Abad and Sarat villages were annihilated. About 20,000 people in 25 villages were cut off from vehicular access to the rest of Gilgit-Baltistan province and Pakistan. A lake formed behind the landslide dam; by May 29th 2010, when the lake finally overtopped the dam, it had submerged 27 kilometres of the Karakoram Highway, destroyed at least six bridges, and flooded the homes and fields of about 240 households in five villages. In addition, over 130 shops have been submerged, as well as several schools, hotels, community centres, grinding mills and places of worship. The landslide and lake have together displaced about 380 families, most of whom are staying with relatives or are living in hastily-constructed camps.

 

Since the KKH opened in 1986, people in the region have come to rely on vehicular transportation, access to services, and the cheap and easy movement of people and goods between their villages and down-country cities. The accessibility provided by the KKH has become woven into the everyday economies and time-space fabric of almost all Gojali households. They are now struggling with the sudden unexpected reassertion of the friction of distance.

 

Nancy Cook and I are collaborating with Zulfiqar Ali Khan and Noor Mohammad – residents of one of the partially submerged villages and editors of a local news blog called The Pamir Times – to study the effects of landslide-induced disruptions to mobility on households in four Gojali villages. We are using in-depth interviews to develop four small case studies that will be presented individually, and then used to develop a comparative study of the effects of sudden and prolonged inaccessibility on household livelihood strategies, education, mobility patterns, social services, diets, well-being and the like in these four communities.

 

The project is an extension of our larger research project, A Material Ethnography of the Shimshal Road. Shimshal is a Gojali community some 70 kilometres upstream from the Atta Abad slide.  

 

For updates on geophysical aspects of the Atta Abad slide, barrier lake and spillway see Dave's Landslide Blog.

For updates on the socio-cultural and economic implications of the Atta Abad slide see The Pamir Times.

 

Atta Abad Landslide Deposit - photo gallery, August 6th 2010.

Atta Abad Barrier Lake Drainage Spillway - photo gallery, August 6th 2010.

Atta Abad Barrier Lake - photo gallery, August 6th 2010.

 

Atta Abad Barrier Lake
Barrier lake upstream from Atta Abad slide.

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