History repeats itself: Swat floods in 1929 and 2010

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September 18, 2010 10:57

By Fazal Khaliq – Swat valley

If history repeats itself, and the unexpected always happens, how incapable must Man be of learning from experience. (George Bernard Shah)

And it seems, as a nation we do not learn from our history.

The recent worst floods which changed the topography of a number of villages in Swat valley is nothing but a repeat of history. However, the response from the state authorities of the past and the present seem two different stories.

Sir Miangul Gul Shahzada Abdul Wadood (Bacha Sahib) ruled Swat state from 1917 to 1943. He was an illiterate but ruled the state with vision and far-sightedness. He streamlined the state with some positive changes in the social structure which not only stabilised the state but also his own position.

The history of Swat shows that a massive flood once hit the valley in 1929 which unfolded miseries and shook the whole infrastructure of the region.

A view of Swat valley during the 1920s.

An elderly man who witnessed the 1929 floods and its devastation as a child compared it with the recent floods and termed them equally ferocious. “The same furious flood had come when I was a young child, it had swept away everything.”

Pointing out to the difference, he added: “The lashkar (army of that time) was out to help the people, there was a collective help mechanism which cleared everything in few days and made the situation normal.”

Soon after the flood of 1929, Miangul Abdul Wadood did not sit at leisure but was in regular consultations with the think tanks of the time to save his state from the future disasters. At last he came to the conclusion that the root cause of the massive flood is the lack of forests.

Musarrat Ahmed Zeb is the daughter-in-law of the former ruler of Swat. She contrasts the response of present-day rulers with the past ones.

“Bacha Sahib initiated a compact policy of planting trees and used his lashkar (army) as well as every person of the community to plant a tree. Being a leader, he used to take part in every activity himself which encouraged other members of the community to take part in the plantation campaign.”

Local people approaching the Swat river bed after the devastating floods of 1929.

“There would be a hustle and enthusiasm during the collective planting campaign, bands of local folk music with folk dances would be arranged to catalyse the energy of the people,” she added.

Noting that enough planning was not done by the current government to cope with the massive catastrophe, she emphasised that the ex-ruler of Swat had the vision of development and applied every new and modern technique in his state which he learnt and observed from the developed states.

“The olive trees which we can see everywhere, especially in the graveyards, were imported from Spain by the late Wali (ruler) of Swat. Keeping in view the importance of trees, Wali Sahib considered it as an indispensible factor of the society, and strictly prohibited the cutting of trees.”

Many people agree with the royal lady.

Dost Mohammad Khan, an old man who lives in the Swat valley, described how strict rules and regulations were adopted and followed to safeguard the interests of nature. “There was a proper system to be followed. If a person wanted to cut down a tree even from his own land or field, he would have to send an application to the state authorities and fell it after getting permission. In return, he had to plant two more trees which was obligatory.”

“Cutting a tree on the government property was 1000 times difficult during his rein,” the elderly added.

The secret of the growth of thick pine forest in the Swat valley is the personal interest and vision of development of the rulers of Swat state. Their perseverance and persistent protection ensured the unhindered growth of the trees that transformed the natural beauty of Swat valley. However, since the merger of the valley with Pakistan in 1969, permanent neglect and continuous deforestation on part of the state authorities not only defaced the beauty of the heavenly valley, it also had a massive impact on the climate of the region.

“To overcome and control the flood situation in future, we have to follow the same policy as adopted by our past rulers like Bacha  and Wali sahib. We need not any aid from foreign countries but everybody should come forward to plant a tree,” the Swat’s wise old man concluded.

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