With the magnificence and scale of its size and beauty, the mountainous regions in Gilgit-Baltistan are an attractive destination for tourists. Sadly, few are aware of the hardships faced by the local communities that live in this rugged land. When population numbers were small and natural resources were abundant, the communities living here faced challenges linked only to communication infrastructure and access to markets and services. But today in order to meet the needs of a growing population, a declining resource base and the changes in precipitation due to climate change, the are more challenges to face.
Nestled on a high hill with a picturesque backdrop of mountains, the village of Gole Tassu comprises of eight hamlets. The scattered households have limited landholdings and not many opportunities for livelihood and enterprise development. The rigors of daily chores, revolving largely around water, consume most of the time of women and girls. With no proper water supply scheme in place, water for both agriculture and domestic use is fetched by women from surrounding snow melt water streams. The streams are contaminated rendering the water unfit for human consumption, but with no other option the polluted water was consumed by people resulting in disease and mounting medical expenses.
Zubaida, a young girl from the village felt that her education was being affected by lack of access to clean water. “I have to miss classes because I am asked to share the workload with my mother. Most of my time is spent on either fetching water or tending to the sick members of the family at home. We are forced to consume filthy water because we have no access to clean water,” she complained.
“The safe drinking water scheme recently installed with funding from the Coca-Cola Foundation has transformed our lives,” says Zubaida. “I go to school regularly now and my grades have also improved. With less workload at home I now have time to think about my future and what I want to do with my life,” she says. Zubaida wants to study medicine and specialize in public health and administration. She wants to educate people on water and sanitation issues with a focus on female health and well-being. “I don’t want others to suffer the deprivations that I witnessed in my village due to water contamination and I want more people to enjoy the benefits that we now have from access to clean water.’ In addition to the water collection points the washbasins built into the design of the scheme provide the community a facility for washing their hands before meals and taking care of dental hygiene.
The water stewardship and replenishment project has ushered in a new era of hope. It has opened windows of opportunity for the community as a whole and for women in particular to realize their full potential.