More snowfall raises safety fears in Pakistan's southwest

Local residents search for the avalanche victims in the snow in Neelum Valley, in Pakistan-administered Kashmir on January 15, 2020. (AFP)
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Updated 21 January 2020

More snowfall raises safety fears in Pakistan's southwest

  • Pakistan’s frost-ravaged southwest braces for more snowfall
  • Death toll due to recent extreme weather reached 106

KARACHI: The Met Office on Monday said that more snow is expected in parts of cold-ravaged southwestern and northern Pakistan over the next 48 hours, where life has already been paralyzed by torrential rains and snowfall last week.
The countrywide death toll from avalanches, landslides and other extreme weather-related incidents during the recent cold spell has risen to 106.
New storms are expected in some of the country’s most isolated places in northwestern Balochistan and Gilgit-Baltistan, according to the meteorological office.
The news made residents fear for their lives and safety.
“A new snowstorm will create new difficulties for us who live here,” said Hashim Khan, a resident of Balochistan’s Muslim Bagh area, which was badly affected by the recent record snowfall. He told Arab News over the phone that road access to remote villages was still cut off and communities remained stranded.
Authorities, however, say that this time they are prepared to address all dangers.
“Snowfall is expected, but it will not be as heavy as it was last week. We are ready to tackle the situation,” Muhammad Younus, an official of the provincial disaster management authority (PDMA) told Arab News.
According to NDMA data, out of the 106 people killed by the recent weather-related incidents, 79 died in Azad Kashmir, 20 in Balochistan, five in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and two in Gilgit-Baltistan. 
At least 103 people have been injured, while nearly 1,300 houses were damaged, mostly in Balochistan. 
Prime Minister Imran Khan has announced relief packages for the families of victims, National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) spokesman Saqib Mumtaz said on Monday.
“Chairman NDMA Lt. General Muhammad Afzal visited the rains and snowfall affected areas of Balochistan where Director General Provincial Disaster Management Authority Imran Zarkon briefed him on the losses and damages caused by (the) recent spell of rains and snowfall in the Province,” he told Arab News.
According to the PM House statement, Rs500,000 “will be extended to the families of every deceased person,” while Rs50,000 will be paid to those who are injured. Financial assistance of Rs100,000 “will be provided for the families with houses fully damaged or collapsed,” and between Rs25,000 and Rs50,000 will be given to those whose houses were partially damaged.
PDMA Balochistan said it had faced challenges in restoring the province's land transportation network, as heavy machinery for road clearance was insufficient. The NDMA chairman said the equipment will be supplied, funded from the National Disaster Management Fund (NDMF).

Pakistani Umrah pilgrims will be compensated, says Saudi envoy

Updated 28 February 2020

Pakistani Umrah pilgrims will be compensated, says Saudi envoy

  • Ambassador Al-Malki says pilgrims will be able to travel to the Kingdom on the same visa or get a new one
  • PIA spokesperson says passengers can get full refund or get their seats readjusted

ISLAMABAD: Saudi Ambassador to Pakistan Nawaf bin Said Al-Malki said on Friday that all Pakistani Umrah pilgrims affected by the temporary travel ban to the Kingdom due to the threat of coronavirus would be compensated.

“Pakistani Umrah pilgrims who had to travel to Saudi Arabia during the dates of suspension will be compensated in the best possible way,” Al-Malki told Arab News on Friday. “They will be able to travel on the same visa or will be issued a fresh one free of charge.”

Saudi Arabia on Thursday placed a temporary ban on Umrah pilgrims in an attempt to ensure public safety and prevent the spread of coronavirus. The Organization of Islamic Cooperation also supported the Kingdom’s decision to protect its citizens from the epidemic.

“All those passengers who have Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) tickets will be able to get full refund from the PIA offices or their travel agents,” the national carrier’s spokesperson Abdullah Hafeez Khan told Arab News on the phone from Karachi, adding it was up to the passengers if they wanted to avail the refund option or get their seats readjusted after the ban.

Meanwhile, Saudi airlines also announced full refund of tickets through a circular which is available with Arab News.

“The Pakistani mission in Saudi Arabia is in touch with the Saudi authorities on this issue and will take all possible measures to facilitate Pakistani pilgrims,” spokesperson of the Pakistani embassy in Saudi Arabia Arshad Munir told Arab News on the phone from Jeddah.

Faizan Akhtar, a member of Pakistan’s Umrah Travel Agents’ Association told Arab News from Rawalpindi that the situation would become clear in the next few days, but all the passengers would get refunds or manage to travel on the same Umrah package after the ban.

“There was a previous incident of flight suspension during the Pak-India standoff last year which disturbed Umrah pilgrims. They were compensated by the Saudi authorities who extended their visas without extra charges and airlines adjusted their seats accordingly. We haven’t received any official communication on this so far, but the situation will become clear in the next few days,” Akhtar said.