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Updated: Dec 26th, 2005

ACTED sent a team to the tribal area known as Kala Dhaka. Kala Dhaka has a poor reputation among the military and the country in general of being a violent, "backwards" place, and there may be ample evidence for that theory of which I am ignorant, but our brief exploration of the area leads me to believe that to some extent it's a typical case of a little bit of truth and a lot of exaggerated fears.

In our trip, we discovered what the local residents and many relief workers and military people already knew, which is that the area (at least the northern part) has received almost no aid since the earthquake. Expecting none, they have done an admirable job of rebuilding their lives with what they have, and the general tenor of the villages was more organized and positive, though they seem to face large challenges as well.

A group of NGO's, including ACTED, are now looking into the possibility of serving the area. You can read our report for more information.

Click on the image to see the full size stitched-together panoramic of just one part of the northern valley.

The Indus river dominates the topography of the area, following along the northern edge, turning to follow the western border, and finally bisecting the province in the south before flowing into the reservoir of Tarbela dam. Here is pictured a typical cluster of villages by the river. There are many in the mountains as well, but our brief assessment did not have time to reach those areas.

Many of the buildings in this photo have been partially rebuilt, which belies the apparent lack of damage: though Kala Dhaka is relatively far from the epicenter, the buildings are almost exclusive dry-stacked stone with a mud plaster and wooden frame. Something like 50-75% of the buildings we saw were uninhabitable.

Kala Dhaka is a strikingly beautiful place. I managed to take photographs of the least beautiful parts of it, but hopefully you can get the idea.

An alleyway in one of the villages helps you imagine what the intact town might have looked like.

More houses...

This type of construction didn't stand much of a chance.

Most of the tents we saw, such as this one, lacked any kind of winterization.

New construction was everywhere in these villages, in marked contrast to other villages in similar conditions, probably because they expected no aid to come their way. They must be sacrificing other areas of their life to spare the time and expense for this construction, but they don't have the option.

Unfortunately, they are reconstructing in exactly the same way as before the earthquake. Of course, lack of resources means they will do what they have to do to shelter themselves, but a few changes like cross-bracing or corner-reenforcement, a lighter roof (not using these deadly heavy beams), wood-frame walls above a few feet of stone rather than high stone walls, and so on, can make a big difference and aren't necessarily costly.

Our "guards" as we explored Kala Dhaka with the younger brother of the tribal leader ("khan") of the Basi Khel, the largest of the local tribes, comprising some 85,000 people.

I hesitate to even include this picture, but I'll use it to make a point. This kind of image dovetails dangerously with the common western impression of wild-eyed white-bearded zealouts running through the hills, bent on jihad against the infidels. To the contrary, these people, despite their internecine past and uneasy present, were exactly as civil and generous as the rest of northern Pakistan. There was no feeling that we were intruding, nor was there a sense that they were more prone to violent outburst. Guns are guns, it's true, but these days this "jewelry", as they described it, is really much more about honor and status than any kind of conflict.

A tower built 40 or so years ago to protect fighters from rival tribes. The top part collapsed.

ACTED worker Zia-ul-Islam Abbasi and the younger brother of the Khan of the Basi Khel who guided us through the area.


A Peelu tree, from which comes an extract often used in hippy and Ayurvedic toothpaste. The region has a number of medicinal plants, of which I am entirely ignorant, including one that comprises one of the key ingredients of Joshanda, a traditional herbal tea used to counter chronic respiratory problems and consumed in quantity by foreign staff of a certain NGO. Environmental problems from the earthquake (especially in tandem with human-altered landscapes) are serious.