“Attabad [Hunza] a site of prehistoric megaslides”

1. The dam should be treated with the utmost concern. A dam of probably somewhat smaller dimensions in 1858 filled and failed catastrophically leading to a flood wave that caused immense damage — the second largest on record for the Upper Indus – reported to have had an 18m peak at Attock, probably more than 20 m at Chilas, and likely 10-15 m at Tarbela, scouring and carrying immense volumes of sediment.

2. However, in the Atabad section there are also several prehistoric megaslides which once blocked the Hunza and remained stable dams for decades or centuries. Obviously they inundated land that is today inhabited or carrying the KKH. It depends upon the nature and composition of the landslide whether it has to be treated as stable or unstable. It is, of course, a serious geotechnical problem requiring experienced engineers to determine whether a spillway can be constructed safely and in time, whether a permanent lake at some level could be stable and acceptable — possibly beneficial?? Careful monitoring is essential to identify whether water quickly finds ways to seep through the landslide (piping), or if it seems well-sealed.

3. I will be happy to provide interested parties with the historical documentation and my own studies of the landslides and outburst floods, that may help in deciding what to do.

3. However, let me add, people first! The people in the area of the landslides and up-valley need urgent assistance. Since it is mid-winter time there are prospects of further snow and intense cold I would urge the authorities to act quickly to ensure food, fuel, medical supplies and, if needed, temporary shelter, reach the areas at and above the landslide.

Dr. Kenneth HEWITT
Professor Emeritus
Department of Geography and Environmental Studies,
Research associate, Cold Regions Research Centre,
Wilfrid Laurier University, Waterloo, Ontario, N2L 3Z9

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  1. Its good to know that Dr. Kenneth is interested in working on this catastrophic disaster..His call for urgent analysis of the incident and history is worth mentioning..we need diligent researchers and engineers of the concerned field to overview the fact behind the disaster and carry out reasonable measurements to tackle such natural disasters in future. Geographically, our people are living a life full of risks and there is always a fear of natural calamity.
    In these circumstances, a thorough research is required to introduce a way out to escape from such disasters
    Melting of glaciers is also the most feared one.

  2. Another Report Printed Dawn Newspaper

    1,200 people affected by tremors in Hunza

    By Our Correspondent

    GILGIT, March 29: At least 1,200 people have been affected by mild tremors in a remote and hilly village of Attabad in central Hunza which rock it periodically.

    The jolts have also damaged 25 houses and caused deep soil erosion. Cracks are all over the place. But no human casualty has been reported, except that two persons had been hospitalized due to shock and awe.

    This was observed from close quarters during a visit by a joint team of journalists and aid-workers on Saturday.

    Attabad is situated 11,000 feet above the sea level and has been experiencing dormant shocks since November 2002. “But we were unaware of the situation until it became alarming,” the locals said.

    They said initially they thought the mild jolts and aftershocks might have been a result of the routine landslides and avalanches.

    But they learnt about the actual situation as their lands developed multiple cracks and deep erosions.

    The recent jolts made 25 families extremely vulnerable besides eroding 1,300 kanals of farmland, affecting over 1,500 cattle and damaging thousands of fruit and poplar trees, according to estimates of the local settlement department.

    The affected families had with them limited ration as they had not received any aid from any agency to cope with the situation.

    “We are running out of food, medicine and fuel as we could not make our voice heard in the right quarters, Sultan Ishaque, a spokesman for the affected people told newsmen.

    He said: “We have been experiencing the aftershocks and underground jolts since the quakes hit Astore and Raikot valleys in Diamer district in November, 2002.”

    When snow melted down in the village, the people noticed wide cracks in their agriculture steppes, he said.

    The situation has become alarming over the last 10 days as cracks began multiplying, Ishaque said.

    He said their lands were incapable of growing any crop, fodder or vegetables — the major sources of their livelihood — in their hilly ghetto.

    A large number of women and children told newsmen that they had not been able to sleep properly for the past two weeks for fear of quakes.

    “We had lost sleep, were suffering from anxiety, irritation, and mental stress as the new situation had badly scared us,” they said in a chorus.

    Some parents said they were concerned about the safety of their kids because of the prevailing uncertain situation. Their children were supposed to walk 4kms daily down the steep pavements to get to their school.

    The quakes have affected 1,200 people in Attabad and their removal to safer areas is a daunting task. The rehabilitation of thousands of the quake-refugees of Astore and Raikot is already an unresolved affair, a local aid worker said.

    “We have not a single first-aid centre nor a proper road to shift patients to other areas,” a widow told Dawn.

    The recent aftershocks have caused a 3,500 feet long and 45 feet deep crevasse that runs through Attabad and goes out to upper Hunza, which has put protruding rocks and boulders in a stumbling position over the village.

    The locals said that these shaky rocks and boulders would cause heavy landfalls even when a slight jolt hits the area. The locals feared there was an impending threat for the Karakoram Highway and a large chunk of the upper Hunza would be inundated if the landfalls blocked the flow of Hunza River. They said they had received no relief so far except 12 tents donated by a local NGO. They demanded of the government to send immediate relief supplies, teams of experts and doctors to control the situation.

  3. Dr. Kenneth HEWITT,

    Thanks for your concern and willingness to share relevent historical documents.

    The concern governemnt department and FOCUS have moved to the effected area, I am certain that initital relief and recovery phase will be taken care but manageing steadly flow of water/ river will be a tricky operation.

    The need is to foster a disataer management department at G-B level. The area is most vulnarable to natural disaters- glacier outbrusts, landslide, mudflow and most frequent in specific locations during certain months of the year but such extra ordainary disasters have also experienced after decades. We dont know how much under water is being accumulated under glaciers and how the mountains are moving/ growing or twisting! Unless serious efforts are put to study the natural environment behaviour and mitigation measures are devised in those fragile areas, the people are always under the threat of such unfortunate disasters in the future.


  4. The geographical facts of our region can now be read and found on the internet and people like Dr. Kenneth, Hewitt and others who have spent years in research and study can be approached for more elaborate study of the region where people live in hazardous locations.

    Our state universities unfortunately seem to have done nothing in this regard despite of fact that Pakistan has a very rich and complex geographical landscape that attract the students of geography from around the world but Pakistan.

    I hardly hear someone has enrolled in subjects like geography and basic natural and physical sciences from the region of Gilgit Baltistan.


  5. What i would like to share today is the emergence of conflict of interests. Over the attempt of people of up-stream to widen the spill way in a desperate effort to increase outflow of water so that the lake is drained and houses and land inundated are reclaimed, but there are voices down stream, condemning the attempt of the people, for there are fears that any increase in water outflow may flood areas down stream. where people of Gilgit-Baltistan stand? who should be saved at the cost of whom or who should not be saved for whom? Question is quite perplexing and is worth a debate.

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