A food crisis is likely to hit Gilgit-Baltistan (G-B) as heavy traffic on the Karakoram Highway (KKH) remains suspended.
Dozens of Gilgit-bound trucks laden with grain bags have been stuck in Kohistan, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, for almost two months.
The suspension of heavy traffic on the main highway is giving rise to a food crisis that could grip the region of 1.5 million people in the coming days.
“Grain stocks in G-B have almost runout and a serious crisis may hit the region in coming days,” an official privy to wheat business in the province told The Express Tribune.
Traffic on the KKH remained suspended repeatedly due to devastating flash floods that damaged infrastructure in G-B and K-P. The highway was later cleared for light traffic but remained closed for heavy cargo trucks.
The newly built Kayal bridge in Kohistan was also struck by gushing flood water four times in the recent past, affecting its foundations. It is one of the main bridges connecting the province with the rest of the country.
Read: Floods wreak havoc in upper country
“It has been almost two months since heavy traffic has been banned on the Kayal Bridge because of its precarious conditions,” an official told The Express Tribune.
“The heavy traffic ban means our G-B bound loaded trucks couldn’t cross it till it is repaired,” he added.
Gilgit-Baltistan, saidto have only 1 per cent of cultivable land, depends heavily on wheat supplies and other basic necessities from Punjab.
The official added that using the Babusar road, an alternative route available to approach G-B, is not suitable for loaded vehicles due to the high altitude.
He furthered that loading and unloading trucks to cross the Kayal bridge is not a “viable option” either.
According to witnesses, dozens of loaded trucks can be seen parked on the KKH as they wait for the bridge to be repaired.
While criticizing the rehabilitation efforts by the National Highway Authority (NHA) another official said, “NHA officials in K-P are least bothered about Kohistan Bridge repair and the looming wheat crisis in G-B”.
As winter is round the corner in G-B, the lack of stockpiling of wheat in high-altitude valleys, inhabited by half of the area's population, is turning out to be a serious concern for the government as well as the locals.
Also read: GB cabinet donates month’s salary for flood relief
Meanwhile, Director Food Department of G-B Ikram Mohammad confirmed the depleted stock of wheat in the province and said it couldn’t be replenished over the past two months due to the blockage of KKH.
“The matter has been taken to the highest level though,” said the director, adding drastic steps need to be taken to avert the crisis beforehand.
G-B receives around 1.5 million bags of wheat as its quota annually from the Pakistan Agriculture and Storage Corporation (PASCO) at subsidized rates.
Lack of proper grain storage facilities and poor road infrastructure coupled with climate change has put G-B on the top of the vulnerability index for food shortage.
Opposition parties blame government
The opposition party heads including former chief minister Hafizur Rehman of PML-N and the opposition leader in the G-B assembly Amjad Hussain of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) called the current government inept and blamed it for the looming crisis.