It seems that every time I so much as blink these days, yet more construction begins on the mountainside I call home. Not that I am against necessary construction, if, that is, it is a sensible and safe construction with factors like being earthquake resistant and some form of workable sewage system built in which, needless to say, is rarely, if ever, the case up here.There is also the inarguable fact that water, of any kind, is increasingly scarce in this upland region as, without adequate water harvesting and storage facilities, when it rains it all runs downhill to the plains. But even an essential commodity like water is, apparently, not taken into consideration when a site for new construction is selected that is absolute madness.Take the latest ‘monstrosities’ to mushroom almost overnight. Number one: It is a small house being built; today they added a flat concrete roof with inadequate supports on weak foundations on a slow landslide which could, quite conceivably, speed up at any given or un-given second. This house is being built slap-bang against an existing ‘new build’ that appeared about six years ago and the occupants of which are always on the hunt for water, as they have no supply of their own. The same goes for the one currently coming up and water for concrete mixing had to be ‘borrowed’ from here and there, as water tankers cannot come down the falling apart, single track, apology for a road that has, for maybe seven years, served this area. Prior to this, access was on foot only and, as building materials had to be conveyed on donkeys and mules, new construction was rare.Number two: An almost complete new build, no water at all and no sewage provision either, perched, dangerously so, on a mountain ledge on the very edge of a drop of at least five hundred feet, probably more, and which, the next time we have an earthquake of any magnitude, is liable to go slip-sliding away along with anyone, who is unfortunate to be inside it at the time. This one, it has taken almost two years to build as the local owners keep getting held up due to shortage of cash, has almost no foundations at all to speak off and it is difficult to understand how it has managed to hang on to its spot this long!Number three: An absolute obscenity of a ‘thing’, one of two being thrown up by ‘outsiders’ from Lahore who plan to use this pair of ‘mansions’ - with ridiculous ornamental pillars - as holiday homes when and if they can be bothered to ‘drop in’ and, when they do, no doubt ignoring the plight of the homeless and hungry they prefer not to see and who would be happy to have any sort of roof over their weary heads.Number four: An apartment complex - a true obscenity and insult to sanity that is a facility distinctly lacking in those who supposedly, depending on the size of the backhander they receive, are responsible for building control and regulation, which, as in most of the country, is a total farce! This complex, goodness knows - although I will find out eventually - how many blocks and how many storey’s this ‘development’ comprises. But one thing is for certain: those stupid enough to purchase what will, as usual, be marketed as ‘luxury apartments with American kitchens’, are going to find that that taps run dry unless they are prepared to pay a fortune, they will be held for ransom by the local water mafia, for the privilege of water sucked up from heavily polluted, with garbage and raw sewage, roadside streams in the vicinity. The private doctors mint a fortune out of hapless holidaymakers as it is and ‘developments’ such as this most definitely add to their incomes!The list could go on and on and on. However, by now, the trend should be clear: downright dangerous buildings, from single storey to towering multi-storey, are appearing in ever-increasing numbers all over the Murree Hills and throughout the surrounding areas too. No one, least of all those responsible for building them, give a damn about things, including safety, water, sewage, environmental damage et al. And in the event of ‘accidents’, will, probably, just grab their ill-gotten profits and disappear, lock, stock and barrel, along the nearest, maybe pre-planned, escape route shedding even the remotest trace of responsibility, let alone criminality in their filthy wake.Endangering lives, spreading misery, depleting the already seriously depleted groundwater aquifers, polluting the entire mountainsides with raw sewage and desecrating what is left of a once pristine environment, is rabidly uncontrolled in this region of formerly beautiful mountains, forests and streams that, paradoxically, depends on tourism for its very economic survival.One only has to look at the eyesores of partially demolished, multi-storey hotels and apartment blocks in Murree, which have been lying derelict or which are illegally inhabited in undamaged, below the road but not below ground, storey’s to get an idea of just how corrupt and lax the local authorities here are and then, if you dare, multiply this by the rest of the country and you will get an idea of exactly where this one beautiful land is going.
nThe writer is author of The Gun Tree: One Woman’s War (Oxford University Press, 2001) and lives in Bhurban.Email: zahrahnasir@hotmail.com