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Pakistan: UN restores damaged link across Indus

In Pakistan, UN refugee agency restores quake-damaged link across Indus

Restored cable way at the Indus River
16 February 2006 – Hundreds of people, including refugees living in the largest relief camp in northern Pakistan, can go home or carry on businesses now that the United Nations refugee agency has helped to repair a vital quake-damaged cable way linking Meira Camp to the Allai Valley, across the Indus River.

The cable way, first built by the Pakistani authorities in 1997, was damaged in the massive earthquake of 8 October. Recognizing the importance of this form of transport to local life, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and its implementing partner, engineering company Best, started fixing it in December.

According to Best, which was responsible for the $700 repair, “the cable way was completely damaged in the earthquake. 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.”

Allai villagers can now go back to taking the 45-second cable car ride across the river, then travel down to the markets in Besham and Thakot along the Karakoram Highway, instead of being forced to take a raft across the river, which is slow and not always safe when rains are heavy and currents are strong. Passengers pay a small fee to use the cable car, in which six passengers or a 800-kilogram load can comfortably fit.

The service, using up six to seven litres of diesel per day, is run by Gul Khan, Zeeb and his cousin Aslam, who also maintain the engine. Once the passengers are on board, Zeeb whistles as Aslam starts the engine and sends the cable car to the other side.

"Every day we transport some 700 passengers, on average," says Gul Khan, adding that the cable car carried up to 1,300 people per day after heavy rains and landslides blocked the roads leading to Bana, the main town in the Allai Valley.

The cable way is used as a shuttle by some of the 19,000 people living in Meira Camp, the still expanding camp in the quake-damaged north, to visit their home villages in the Allai Valley and report on conditions to people from their communities in the camp.

Talizar, one of Meira's community leaders, says he went to see his house in Rashang village.

"Everything is destroyed," he says. "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."

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