Restoring the "high way" home to the Allai Valley, northern Pakistan
MEIRA CAMP, Pakistan, Feb 15 (UNHCR) - The "high way" home is now open for residents of the largest relief camp in northern Pakistan after the UN refugee agency helped to repair a vital cable way linking Meira camp to the Allai Valley across the Indus River.
The cable way, which was first built by the Pakistani authorities in 1997, was damaged in the October 8 earthquake last year. Allai villagers who used to take the cable car down to the markets in Besham and Thakot along the Karakoram Highway now had to find another way to cross the river. One option was to take a raft across, which was slow and not always safe amid heavy rains and strong currents.
Recognising the importance of the cable way to local life, UNHCR and its implementing partner, Best, started fixing it in December.
"The cable way was completely damaged in the earthquake," says Best engineer Sherin, who was responsible for the 42,000-rupee (about US$700) repair. "The engine was destroyed, the rope was torn and needed to be reinstalled between the two stations on each side of the river. We had to buy new material and hire engineers to help us in tying up the cables. We needed to fix it quickly. When Meira camp residents learnt that we were repairing the cable way, they were eagerly waiting for us to finish."
The cable way started running in early January, allowing people to cross the river quickly and safely. Today, people pay a small fee to use the cable car, which can comfortably fit up to six people or carry a load of 800 kg. The service is run by Gul Khan, Zeeb and his cousin Aslam, who maintain and buy spare parts for the engine, using up six to seven litres of diesel per day. Once the passengers are on board, Zeeb whistles as Aslam starts the engine and sends the cable car to the other side, a 45-second dangle across the Indus River.
"Every day we transport some 700 passengers on average," says Gul Khan, adding that the cable car has carried up to 1,300 people per day after heavy rains and landslides on the roads leading to Bana, the main town in the Allai Valley.
"Our passengers take all sorts of things with them when they cross the river," he notes. "Very often they use this cable car to reach the markets and buy and sell vegetables, clothes, items for daily use as well as to transport firewood. During Eid (in mid-January), many people used it to go and see their relatives and bring them presents. Sometimes, people also transport construction materials to continue working on the reconstruction of their houses."
Abdul, who uses the cable way to visit his home village near Bana, says, "Bana is only 2.5 km up the mountain from here but it is a very steep way. For us, who are used to it, we take about one-and-a-half hours on foot. People who are not used to these mountains may take much longer."
The cable way is often used as a shuttle by some of the 19,000 people living in Meira camp - the biggest camp in the quake-hit north and still growing - to visit their home villages in the Allai Valley and report back to their communities in the camp.
One of Meira's community leaders says he went back to see his house in Rashang village. "Everything is destroyed," says Talizar. "Most people's land cannot be used for farming or living when there is no assistance for recovery. We need tools and materials to rebuild our houses. The rehabilitation of the Allai Valley needs to become a priority. Then we can return home."
When that happens, the restored cable way will hopefully help to pave the way home for the people of Meira camp.
By Ozgul Ozcan in Meira camp, Shangla district, Pakistan