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Swollen rivers force Pakistanis to use zip line

By Stephanie Gosk, NBC News Correspondent

MINGORA, Pakistan –When the floods hit the Swat Valley four weeks ago, nearly every bridge was wiped out and miles of mountainside roads crumbled into the raging water.

Hundreds of thousands of people have now been cut off from the rest of the country, but they are still crossing the rivers, slowly and sometimes dangerously.

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In the town of Mingora, we found a booming raft business. The boats are crudely strung together with planks of wood and inflatable tubes. They don’t look like they could pass a safety test in a swimming pool, let alone crossing the fast-moving Swat River.


But about 1,000 people a day still wait in line, pay 20 rupees (about 40 cents) and stack everything they can on board until the planks buckle and the rafts sink low in the water.

The Pakistani military is overseeing the crossing. They picked the location because they said it was the shortest and calmest crossing. But looking out across the river “short and calm” are not the first adjectives to come to mind.

EPA/RASHID IQBAL

Flood victims use a cable car on a river as they transport food to their camps in Matta, a region of Swat Valley in northern Pakistan on Aug. 11.

When a boat is launched, the current pushes hard while two men with oars in the back furiously paddle to try to get to the other side. On the day we were there watching from the banks of the river, everyone made it. But peach farmer Sulman Ali said he has seen accidents.

“I am scared every time I step on board,” he said. But Ali, like many others here, has no choice. The flood destroyed most of his peaches, and those that remain will rot if he doesn’t pick them now and get them to town. The money he makes from the fruit is supposed to support his family for the rest of the year.

Zip line across
Further up river, there is similar necessity to cross, but the water churns into dangerous rapids. Boats won’t make it, so the Pakistani military has set up a zip line.

Three rickety carts are set up to get manually pulled across the river along a cable. In one direction they move quickly, sliding down a decline, but coming back uphill it’s slow and jerky. At times the carts linger uncomfortably above the water.

Nearly everyone that used the zip line to cross the river had a similar story: their villages had been wiped away, there was not enough food or medicine and very little help had arrived.
“Our village was destroyed and the children are getting sick,” one woman said just after she crossed via the zip line. “I have to go to my nephew’s funeral on this side of the river. He died from diarrhea two days ago.”

By Stephanie Gosk, NBC News

People in Swat Valley have been forced to walk because the roads have been swept away.

SLIDESHOW: Floods ravage Pakistan

Long road ahead
Unfortunately, the people in Swat have become painfully familiar with adversity.

Several years ago the Pakistani Taliban grew in prominence and eventually controlled the entire region. In Mingora, the largest city in Swat Valley, those who opposed the Taliban’s radical
Islamic ideology were often killed. Their lifeless bodies were left hanging in the center of town with a note: anyone that removes this body will end up here as well.

A year and a half ago the Pakistani military launched an offensive to drive out the Taliban. It was successful, but Swat suffered extensive damage as a result of the military offensive and thousands fled to escape the fighting.

People had only just begun to return to the valley and rebuild when the floods hit. Now, by even the most optimistic estimates, it will take years and billions of dollars to rebuild their lives.