Heavy rains and snowfall disrupt life in north

Heavy rain and unexpected snowfall earlier this month in northern Pakistan have caused huge damage to land and households, with at least eight people reported dead in the mountainous district of Chitral, some 355 km from Peshawar, capital of North West Frontier Province (NWFP).

"First-hand assessment is not possible as several calamity-hit areas are still inaccessible. Local and provincial departments are providing tents, blankets and food items, but the loss is so huge that rehabilitation will take several months," provincial information minister Asif Iqbal told IRIN from the northwestern city of Peshawar.

Record rainfall of over 300 mm was registered in the second week of October. "October is usually considered the driest month of the year with no history of such heavy rain in last 25-30 years. The snow season normally starts by mid-November," Dr Qamar-uz-Zaman Chaudhry, head of Pakistan's meteorological department, told IRIN in Islamabad.

The met office has predicted more rain in the coming days. The district authorities have asked the central government and provincial authorities for assistance to carry out relief work in the remote area as they were not prepared either financially or technically to deal with an emergency of this scale.

"Immediate attention is required to help the affected people," Shahzada Mohiuddin, head of local administration in Chitral, told IRIN from Peshawar.

The continued downpour followed by heavy snowfall has disrupted life in over 32 valleys of the district, extending over an area of 14,850 sq km. The main road to Peshawar, the only one connecting it to the rest of the country, is only partially open, while having it fully up and running will take at least another week due to poor weather.

The internal roads of the valleys are still blocked due to snow and landslides, according to local residents.

The local communities will be vulnerable to food shortages in the coming winter months, as their staple crops of maize and rice have been damaged badly, according to an initial assessment report of the Aga Khan Rural Support Programme (AKRSP), which works to improve the basic infrastructure in the area.

The AKRSP report said the brunt of the disaster has fallen on fruit orchards and other trees, with the damage to tree crops being extensive. Community-based infrastructure such as link roads, irrigation channels and power units have been extensively damaged. The report added that as the remoter areas open up to communications, the casualty figures might rise. In higher altitude areas, loss of livestock could also be high, as animals were still grazing in summer pastures.

"Most of the valleys of Chitral are still disconnected and accurate information about the losses is still not available. Our initial assessment is based on the information we have received from people coming from the area," Miraj Khan, regional manager of AKRSP, told IRIN from Chitral.