Professor David Petley’s letter in relation to Asad Zamin’s comments

“Dear Friends at Pamir Times

I thought I should write in relation to the comments that you report today from the Deputy Commissioner of Gilgit district, Asad Zamin. First, I am pleased that the Gilgit Government is taking the issues associated with this landslide seriously, and I would like to emphasise that I am happy to continue to help in a voluntary capacity in any way that I can. I would welcome a discussion with the Gilgit Government about the hazard that this landslide poses.

In my report of early March 2010 I emphasised that the Government has acted appropriately in constructing a spillway. I maintain that this is the case, and I have huge respect for those who have been involved in constructing the structure, in difficult and often dangerous circumstances. My personal preference would be for the authorities to take action now to protect the spillway from erosion, but this may well be already planned for the next few weeks.

Unfortunately, although we understand landslide dams well from many previous examples, it is not possible to predict prfecisely what will happen when the water level reaches the spillway. It is entirely possible that the spillway will remain intact and that water will flow across the barrier, leaving the lake in place. However, there is also a possibility that the landslide will erode from the water flow, leading to a breach that allows the lake to drain. This could happen in a number of ways, ranging from a very slow release, which would be associated with a minor flood, to in the (very unlikely) worse case scenario a rapid release that could see a substantive wave travel downstream. I must emphasise that the latter scenario is possible but certainly not probable. Unfortunately we have no way to quantify the probabilities of the various outcomes, but such very rapid collapses are rare.

It is because of this uncertainty that I advocate being cautious about the range of possible events as the water nears the spillway. Putting suitable measures in place to protect the downstream population until we know how the dam is performing would be a prudent move. In all probability we will prove to have been overly cautious. However, this is a better outcome than being proven to have been insufficiently careful.

It is important that people downstream do not develop a sense of panic. A large flood is not inevitable – indeed it is unlikely – and with suitable plans it will be possible to move everyone out of the way should a flood develop. However, I do believe that it would be prudent to have appropriate plans in place to ensure the safety of the population. I should add that many of these measures are in place for the section of river to Gilgit thanks to the efforts of FOCUS – such as a 24 hour monitoring station, a warning system in downstream villages, and evacuation plans for the most endangered communities.

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Finally, should the spillway survive the initial overtopping event then we will need to continue to be cautious to ensure that a flood does not develop at a later stage. This will require some thought and effort.

I would like to reiterate my willingness to help in any way that I can, and invite the DC to contact me at any stage to discuss the situation and my report. In my country it is normal during hazardous events to convene an expert group of scientists and engineers to advise the government as the situation develops. Such an approach might be worth considering in this case; I am certain that there are a number of suitably qualified individuals both within Pakistan and in the wider international community who would be delighted to help in this way.”

Professor David Petley

Wilson Professor of Hazard and Risk

Durham University

United Kingdom

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  1. First, the DC should know how to disagree with the views of a learned professor.

    Second, he should also have discussed the reports of Alessandro Palmeri, the WB expert who visited the region on invitation of none other than the holy cheater, NDMA. What did he say?

    I can clearly see a contradiction in the statements of Asad Zamin. If there is no chance of lake outburst and if the lake will be drained gradually why is the government so eager to establish relief camps for 13,000 people? Isn’t that the number of people at risk in case of a massive flood, 30 meters high, as calculated by none other than experts of the corruption machine, PWD?

    Finally, has the government of GB considered the scenario after the spillover starts?

    What about 3 hours after the spillover?
    What about 6 hours after the ‘safe spillover’?
    What about one year after the spillover?

    What measures have been taken by FWO, NDMA, GBDMA and other government agencies for strengthening of the spillway, so as to not make it vulnerable to fast erosion?

    Lastly, Zamin needs to take some more courses in polite discourse rather. His statement seems to be the reaction of a confused and visibly irritated man than a mature, understanding, public servant.


  2. In my opinion Petley’s work is very reactionary and lacks in contingency planning. There is also a problem with not knowing the chances of any given type of failure. So what we have is an expert who offers possibilities, which many amateurs could have offered, without practical solutions.

    I agree this is a bad situation, but let’s see a list of potential failure events, the chance for such failure, and a mitigation plan. In addition, Petley does not address the impact on commerce, including the goods the flow on the KKH, farming in the area, water issues at the lower elevations, how this reservoir might be used in a positive manner, and so on.

    In summary, Petley is very good at analyzing what has already taken place, but offers little guidance as to best actions to take to mitigate potential injury, death, property damage and economic losses.

    How about some evacuation plans for those who might be flooded in the event of a sudden release of water? How about discussions with the Chinese about the reconstruction of the KKH? What about those who are still living in the area? Once the river overtops the dam, what should be done with the dam? Should the lake be drained? What’s a good method?

    In the end, his letter to Pamir Times is just one more example of a reactionary solution.

  3. ….

    Its almost four months over for the disaster of the region now the government officials are in panic and giving such irresponsible comments, it seems that officials of the region has made this situation very serious now and has created a panic for the downstream population. at last water has to cross the debris within a few weeks no one knows what would be the situation, May God save the entire population down stream from any kind of catastrophe but our corrupt government agencies including the army engineering core FWO which is insufficient of the modern engineering skills has created this situation very worse now and were totally failed to overcome the disaster. More then 200 households in the upstream have lost their homes and property that they had made it for more then 100 years from their ancestors during the harsh economic condition of their time. An entire village is sinking in this lake the entire infrastructure including KKH is now in real danger downstream.

    May God save us from any kind of big disasters and from the corrupt officials of our country.

  4. Dear Professor David Petley, Thank u very much for ur visit and for ur analysis. As we are living in a such a country where intellect and Scientific knowledge always been unwelcome. we are surprised by DC and i am personal wondering about his mind set. Without having any Technical background in this domain how he can reject report. I personally feel that after flow of water there are very hight probability of Major flood.
    Sher ullah Baig

  5. First of all, I would like to extend my profound gratitude to Dr. David Petley for rendering volunteer services in bringing forward the probable / realities regarding anticipated catestrophe based on his specialist study / existing scenarios. I believe that DC zamin has not fully understood or gone through the report of Dr. Petley or he is showing his usual bureaucratic biased attitude by denying the facts on ground.
    This is dilemma of our govt.officials, who think that being a govt. administrator, they are master of all trades, which i believe is simply a wrong thinking. They need to listen / review the specialist reports and get guidence from such high profile pressionals.

  6. Its amazing a man who might be good at relating the governiments rules with his day to day activities is predicting in place of a scientist.The learned and sensitive people like professor Petley can prevent the people from hazards provided that to give them a chance to play their roles as scientists.Unfortunaltely we are following those people who are either politicans on the basis of thier meterial wealth or buerocrates after getting through the examination of general knowge tests havng no relation with wisdom and leadership.
    Its not necessary that whatever has been cited by the professor will come true but thats evident that he is over cautious to save the people and their property due to his humanistic approach and the people of downstream must be vgilant by keeping in mind the profossors prediction.

  7. On behalf of peoples of Hunza and GB province, I would like to offer our gratitude to Dr Petley for visiting the Attabad site at invitation of FOCUS-Pakistan. I have read and re-read his report. It is a very good report which has analysed the situation based on field analysis and historic data. he has offer excellent advice on mitigation measures including various alert stages. if I am not mistaken his report was released in end of February. I understand from reliable sources,FOCUS Pakistan has also got dam breach flooding modeling done from three universities in Europe and all of them point towards a high flooding wave which can cause significant damage if proper mitigation steps are not taken. DC saheb, you are a very responsible officer and we people of Hunza have respect for you, but please, respect the expert advice in fields which are not your area of expertise. Why does Government not release NESPAK report to public?????. I once again request peoples of Hunza to fully cooperate with the Government and FOCUS in all evacuation plans etc.

    On behalf of peoples of Hunza, I request FOCUS to again invite Dr Dave Petley to come and visit Attabad and GB province and help the people against other landslides,disasters that exist in the area. Dr.Petley you will be our honoured guest.

    You can read full report of Dr Petley on this link:

  8. @Dr Petley lets see whose report works in near future.About the DC and other govt officials they don’t have any disaster management degree or they doesn’t have a far relation with these kinds of calamities how to overcome these things,they are just issuing the statements blindly.Unfortunately in our country experienced persons are always discouraged …..Talent is being murdered.Thumbs down DC

    An objection is not a rejection; it is simply a request for more information.
    @Petley thumbs up

  9. I would like to thanx Dr. David Petley who honestly reporting time to time regarding Ata Abaad disaster. You are not only focusing your attention on the issue but also provoke government of gilgit baltistan for adequete action. It is shamful for government of Pakistan to run rumors only and not practically involving in the matter. Government is totally ignoring not only the affectees of Ata Abad but all the adjacent populate of indus river.

  10. I guess it is the atitude and behavioural problem! May be we are not used to listen to relevent people and learn from experiences and feel shy to ask get technical people to debate and discuss variuos solutions/ options. I consider, debate/ discussion and integrated efforts as a missing link in our part of the world. In my view timely information gathering, communication/ sharing, preparedness and mitigation in most cases are not priority issues. Someone has correctly mentioned- where are NESPAK or other report/s and when were those prepared?

    The damage is done upstream Hunza river and it is incremently growing. Gulmit is the third village in the row hit by the lake water after Ayeenabad and Shiskat – apart from physical assests of small farmers and parts of KKH and bridge and community centres, 70 plus houses submerged so far. Waht a shame! These damages could have been saved if timely decision were made. Creadibilty of the disaster management orgaqnization is questionable ! We most show our willingness to learn from this experience to face the challenges of future.

    Thanks Dr. David for your concerns and sharing your report.

  11. Deliberately delaying, and experimenting on the spillway is unfair with people upstream. DC Sahab has never planned and commented how to save upstream population from the disaster for more than four months.
    You don’t address people’s queries ………….remember you are accountable to GOD one day. You all in power and with authorities and politicizing the situation for self interest will have to answer for your deeds one day!!!!!!!!!

  12. Thanks Dr. Petley for the updates, we really appreciate and acknowledge your efforts and hard work, there is no reason to doubt on your good intentions.
    Please carry on your work in close co-ordination with the District Administration.


  13. Dear all readers of Pamir times
    First I am grateful to Proff. Dr. Petly for his effort to awaking the institutions and informing the community about the growing dam burst risk at Attabad. We all technical and relevant professional should look into monitoring blog developed by him.
    The statement floated by DC Gilgit is alarming for innocent residents of the region as well as for response institutions. How a layman in such field can comment on a scientific report directly. What is the basis? We have to think about the statement put forwarded by Head District Disaster Management Authority. If the report of DAVID is wrong then why government is investing to built the emergency shelters and emergency evacuation plans.
    It seems how much our local government is capable to mainstream disaster risk in to development as well as emergency management. We are lucky that these scientists are leading scientists who are giving guidance and comments about the issue. That is true that who can guarantee that this dam will not burst? Scientist giving put forwarding comments with the scientific logics, although the real risk cannot be forecasted 100% but can be assessed near to real. It is not wise to directly reject a scientific research report. Unfortunately we are not incorporating the research results in to our development like western countries. Therefore there is a big gap between government decision makers, planners, and academia and research scientists. It is clear for a sustainable, risk conscious development the results of the researches should be basis for decision making, planning and implementation as we learnt from Kashmir earthquake. Earthquake was highlighted in research journal by different professors of Azad Kashmir University department of Applied Geology.
    If this lake bursts and thousands of lives and property lost then who will response. I am not sure that local government has so much resource to respond. The only option we have is our strong army who can help these poor vulnerable and susceptible people. So precautionary measure are absolute options at the movement


    Ejaz Karim

  14. My thanks to Professor David Petley for showing an utmost concern and the offer he made to render his volunteer service. If I had the authority, I sure would have sought the help from people like David Petley. Unfortunately, our government is too lazy and impotent to act and cope the issue. Wonder what made them think that the dam won’t burst. Dealing with the risk management of such issues, we understand that the “risk” is always lurking around and could become a horrible reality if not handled prudently!

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