Gilgit - Baltistan

Climate change and GLOFs

By Amber Rasool

It’s good to be a part of KNCC and I strongly believe that this network will be very useful in channelling information to the right people and through them to a wider audience.

 I would like to introduce UNDP-CPR’s (Crises Prevention and Recovery Unit) Regional project “Glacial Lake Outburst and Flooding (GLOF) Risk Reduction” initiative for the Himalayas and would welcome any related information, comments and suggestions. The project was designed keeping in view the current issue of global climate change and its impact on the mountain glacial environment, giving rise to the incidence of Glacial Lake outburst and Flooding (GLOF) events. Climate change is exacerbating the natural hazards leading to significant impacts on the country’s development.

The most severe impact of climate change in the region is its effect on the glaciers. Accelerated global warming the glaciers of the region are retreating with rapid accumulation of water in mountaintop lakes. Recent studies suggest the rate of glacial retreat in the Himalayas is as high as 30 to 60 metres per decade.

As glaciers retreat, glacial lakes form behind moraine or ice ‘dams’, which can breach suddenly, leading to a discharge of huge volumes of water and debris. Such outbursts have the potential of releasing million cubic meters of water in a few hours causing catastrophic flooding up to hundreds of kilometers downstream with serious damage to life, property, forest, farms and infrastructure. Known as Glacial Lake Outburst Floods (GLOFs), these floods can in a single devastating event result in major economic damages and social repercussions for a sizeable population living in the Hindukush – Himalayan belt covering the countries of India, Pakistan, Nepal and Bhutan. Impacts include loss of lives, domestic property, cultivable land, mountain infrastructure downstream, forced migration and long-term secondary environmental degradation. National Agricultural Research Council (NARC) and International Center for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) conducted a detailed research in 2004 – 2005 and prepared a detailed inventory of the glaciers and glacial lakes in Pakistan. 52 potentially hazardous glacial lakes have been identified through the research, which pose a great threat to mountain communities

The project will be centered on community based and non-structural GLOF risk reduction measures. Its overall objective is to compliment engineered approaches with non-engineering approaches to GLOF risk reduction in the Himalayan Belt.

As various agencies have been working on the theme of GLOFs in the region, a collaborative approach will be promoted. This project will enhance the benefits of disaster risk reduction initiatives already in place (e.g. appropriate early warning systems, awareness measures, preparedness and land use planning) in Bhutan, India, Nepal and Pakistan.

A coordinated approach combining non-structural and community based methods will be used to prepare vulnerable communities against the threat of GLOFs and glacier melts in the targeted sub-region. You are kindly requested to share:

1. Any Study/research material containing information about • probable glacial lakes in the Hindu Kush Himalaya (HKH) region and past events when such lakes burst; • the socio-economic and physical impacts of those GLOFs; and • risk mitigation and preparedness measures undertaken before and after the event especially community-based initiatives

2. Experiences from across the globe of adapting to mitigate the risks of GLOFs in particular and flash floods in general especially any community based activities undertaken for reducing such risks with specific focus on the successes and challenges.

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  1. Thanks Amber Rasool to introduce UNDP-CPR’s (Crises Prevention and Recovery Unit) Regional project “Glacial Lake Outburst and Flooding (GLOF) Risk Reduction” initiative for the Himalayas region, would you please give us the concerns contact address, email etc to share some facts and figure on glacial advancemnet hazards and its effect on local community, and may we able to reduces the risks in future.

    Ali Rehmat
    UNMIT, East Timor

  2. Thanks very much Ambrin Rasool for providing us with this fruitful information on the GLOFs. This is wonderful indeed. A nice picture was given on the Himalyas and Hindu Kush (having 52 GLOFs). I wonder if there are any highlight of GLOF work or references on the Karakoram mountain ranges, besides others.

    In the Karkorams, more specififcally in the Hunza valley, GLOFs have been found. Being a layman, I can highlight few GLOFs mainly coming out of the Verzhrav of Shingshal (Shimshal) that has occured time and again.

    Mr Ayub Khan (born 1936), a very prominent mountaneer and tourist guid from Gulmit, started his formal mountaneering mission and venture in 1957 who went to Dastghel with the British team leader, Afred Gregory relates his experience on the GLOFs in this manner:

    a) In the 1940s, the Verzhrav (sounds Verz Zhrav meaning “long stream”)outburst and washed away the settlements along with the Huza River, settlments/agri-fields/forests in Passu, Gulmit, Ganish, Nomal and the like.

    b) Second and third times, Mr Ayub tries to recall his memoirs, the outburst of the glacial laks of Verzhrav occured in 1960 & 1962 and flooded the properties of the community.

    It is notewotty that Verzhrav has its flodings even before 1940; and these incidents which Mr Ayub Khan is relating are in his own memoir after his birth.

    Besides Verzhrav in Karakoram, long before in the past, flooding has come up also in the Ghulkin-Ghusani Glacier that we experienced last week or so. Previously, the Ghulkin-Ghusani’s glacial lake outburst had taken its route from the southern side of Lower Borith and flooded the Ghusani (now Hussaini) village from the southern flank of the Shoh Tolib Shrine (Oston).

    c) So also holds true to the Gulmit (Kamaris) glacier wherein the water in huge quantity has come out and divert its direction towards the settlement; but was redirected on its own route/ravine.

    In this manner, we can also observe the Baltbar’s glcial consequences that flooeded, blocked the Hunza River in the seond half of 1970s and the beautiful Chinese bridge between Gulmit & Shishkat sank and till today is underwater in the river.

    non-structured and/or community approaches in dealing with such natural disasters were mostly attached to belief system. Belief in the spirituality. For instance, a spiritual person used to have prayers on pebbles and rendering it to a person to thrwo that into the water and the water believingly getting off.

    However, there could be other methods as well that may be realistic, but those indiginous knowledge and methods need to be exsplored.

    Ambrin! I may expect you and other fellows to explore such stories from different regions with regard to handling with the natural disaters so that to analyze them and come to a logical conclusions.

  3. in my point of view its a good approach to raise the issue of glofs because in himalayas glaciers are fastely melting due to global warming and i hope this programme will continue in the same manner so that the future threats of glofs could be reduced.

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