By Onno Ruhl, General Manager, Aga Khan Agency for Habitat
In Northern Pakistan, Silgan Valley is one of the most remote valleys in Ghizer District of Gilgit-Baltistan, and Ghasoom Village is at the very end of it. Part of a cluster of villages on a flat piece of land, at the end of the valley, it is closed off on three sides by magnificent glaciers. On a sunny autumn day, like the one on 26 October of 2018, the place looks like a mountaineer’s dream and a great spot for a relaxing vacation away from it all. The reality, however, is different: Every glacier is a direct threat to the village, which is subject to flash floods, rock falls, debris flows and the possibility of glacial lake outbursts due to the growing instability of glaciers in this part of the world.
The community here is used to a hard life and mobilises easily to protect itself from hazard. The daily grind of taking care of oneself and the community overwhelms every other activity, especially for the women. The government programmes that would normally provide water, power, education and health care have limited reach this far.
This is why the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN) embarked on its Priority Valley Programme for Gilgit-Baltistan and Chitral in Northern Pakistan. The programme turns priorities upside down: It targets the most remote valleys first.
My visit on 26 October 2018 was to mark the occasion when the Aga Khan Agency for Habitat’s Water and Sanitation Extension Programme (WASEP) managed to put a working tap – providing World Health Organisation (WHO)-quality water – in every single household in the entire Siligan Valley, as well as in four other priority valleys. This has turned the world upside down: In the most remote place one can imagine, 100 percent coverage has been achieved. Our colleagues from the other AKDN agencies have also done fantastic things in their sectors. There are now good schools, access to health care and an extensive livelihoods programme to match.
But today is World Water Day, so today is our WASEP day! Over a 20-year period, WASEP has provided WHO-quality water to more than 100,000 households in Northern Pakistan – more than half a million people. The best part is that the 20-year old systems still work thanks to high technical standards and a community engagement approach that ensures proper maintenance of the water systems.
Thanks to this programme, the girls in the community now have time to go to school and pursue their dreams, which transforms the quality of life of their families. The rate of diarrhoeal diseases has dropped dramatically, contributing to better living as well as learning outcomes. The benefits are many.
We hope to cover two other priority valleys this year, and we have embarked on an ambitious programme for water supply of a major part of Gilgit Town and its suburbs, together with the Government of Gilgit-Baltistan. At the same time, we are mobilising WASEP approaches in Tajikistan with our colleagues from the Mountain Societies Development Support Programme, and Afghanistan will be next. Water will be our priority every day, not just on World Water Day…