Glacier Hazards and Risk Mitigation

Sher Wali

Pakistan is located at the junction of three world’s largest mountain ranges, i.e. Karakorum, Himalayas and HinduKush. This region, also known as HKH, has a total coverage area of 3500 square km, which hosts high mountain peaks of 8000 meters altitude, and most of the mountainous areas remain covered by high pile of snow, permanent ice and glaciers. Therefore the region is also known as third pole out of the polar region.

According to a Report of ICIMOD,” Formation of Glacial lakes in the Hinuhush-Himalays and GLOF risk Assessment”, 15,003 glaciers, covering an average area of 33,344sq.km has been recorded. There are 8790 glacial lakes, of which 203 lakes have been identified as Potentially Dangerous. In 2005 water Resource Research Institute (WRSI) of Pakistan Agricultural Research Council (PARC) has prepared a glacial inventory with collaboration of ICIMOD, in the Indus basin of Pakistan, which identified 5218 glaciers with an average coverage area of 15041 sq.km, of which 2420 glacial lakes have been identified and out of them52 glacial lakes are identified as potentially dangerous.

 Outburst Floods of such glacial lakes pose great threat to the downstream low lying areas. The northern and north western parts of Pakistan, mostly Chitral in KPK district and Gilgit Baltistan are hosting these larger glaciers. As climate change intensifies risk and frequency of glacial lakes outburst floods (GLOF) is expected to increase in future, as many other research papers also indicated that the glaciers in Karakorum and Himalayas which also have a regional sharing with central Asian region is susceptible to climate change, and these glacier are undergoing in rapid changes.

IPCC Fourth Assessment report 1997, says that by the end of the century the average temperature would rise  6 to 8 degree celicious, if the temperature increases by this rate then it is likely that most of the glaciers in Himalayas and Karakorum ranges can be diminished, as a result in one hand it produce Glacial lakes Outburst Floods and on the other the areas having low precipitation, shortage of water for irrigation and other would be facing drought, food insecurity, environmental degradation, ecosystem and  health & hygiene issues.

Gilgit Baltistan and Chitral  having the largest glaciers are very much prone to GLOF induced flash foods, every year small GLOF events are causing damages to millions worth of losses in terms of infrastructure, lifeline facilities, irrigation channels, roads, electricity polls, standing crops, and erosion of fertile fields, and forest etc. As the villages are located at the foot hills, along the narrow valley’s and on the alluvial fans, so these are considered at high risk of Glacier related hazards.

Booni and Brep Glaciers in Chitral produced major GLOF in 2010 and 2007. Similarly, Gulkin Glacier, Passu Glacier, , Hundur Glacier, Hinarchi Glacier, and Darkut glacier which are located in Gilgit Baltistan have produced 20-30 small to medium level of GLOFs during 2005-2012. Shimshal GLOF in 1885, from Karakorum Range and Karumber GLOF in 1905 in the HinduKush range are the worst GLOF events which caused wide spread damages to infrastructure and life lines facilities, along downstream areas. To reduce the risk of the glacier hazards, many agencies are working in the region to anticipate the glacier risk. FOCUS Humanitarian Assistance Pakistan is working with the close collaboration of the local communities, local government and civil society organizations to enhance the response and rehabilitation capacities of at risk communities and key stakeholders through awareness sessions and capacity building since1998.

There is much more to be done in this area, glacier hazard needs a detail inventory of glacial lakes, glacial lake outburst modeling, climate change impacts on the agriculture and livelihood of the mountain communities and resilience of communities through capacity building, establishment of early warning system, and structural mitigation projects.

There is also a role of local communities who live nearby the glacier site in the mountainous areas. Avoid constructing the houses where glacier is posing threats. We must avoid the reckless cutting of forest. In addition we have to check the behavior the glaciers, and monitor the changes time to time to avoid any mega disaster.

The contributor is a Geographer. 

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