Wed. Nov 25th, 2020

Mandatory GLOF risk assessment of Gulmit glaciers

Didar Ali

Gulmit village is the Tehsil headquarter of Gojal valley. Gulmit village used to be the 2nd capital of Hunza state, situated in the upper Hunza region of the Gilgit-Bapsltistan.

1Gulmit is positioned at an altitude of 7900 feet; hosting two main glaciers, known as Shetubar Glacier and Gulmit Glacier on the western and north-western sphere. The village caters around 500 households in the most fragile region of Karakorum mountain range.

There have been number of GLOF events occurred on Gulmit glaciers due to rapid climate change in previous years. Currently these glaciers are showing negative trend of recession under the influence of climate change. Global warming has adversely affected climate in the high mountain range, which has increased number and frequency of glacial lake formation and its outburst on Gulmit glaciers.

Sadly, neither government nor private sector paid much attention to conduct a full-length study on Gulmit glaciers to reduce risk factor in the area.

Gulmit Glacier

Gulmit glacier is situated on north-west side of Gulmit village, which is draining its melt into Hunza River in the east. Length of the glacier is not known, nor there is any recorded data regarding ice thickness neither any idea about its ice reserve.  Generally Gulmit glacier is enclosed between steep high moraine at one side and rocky mountain at another side. The ice is covered with black debris and large quantities of moraine.

There is no evidence of glacial lake formation on the surface of Gulmit glacier but it is believed that there are glacial lakes covered under huge ice sheets. Generally lakes are created by surface melting especially during summer months, and rainfall seasons. Melted water runs down into crevasse this causes large scale melted water production. Frequently these melted water exit which are sometime enormous and causes great damage to population and landscape.

According to locals of Gulmit village in summer 1972 a massive glacial lake outburst flood occurred on Gulmit2 glacier, which threatened local population but local volunteers of the area helped the community to evacuate.  In summer 2013 again the outburst occurred which was enormous, luckily the watercourse was wide enough, which accommodated the massive release of water into Hunza River.  This flood left behind huge amount of debris which has filled the stream.

In past years local community have worked together along with UNICEF on the site to secure the whole village from flood effects, now there is hardly evidences left of such initiatives.

In recent year locals of Gulmit village approached FocusHumanitarian Assistance Pakistan, to construct a retaining cum safety wall alongside the watercourse at Kamaris area. For now the construction work of retaining wall is underway, local community is playing their part in construction of protection wall. This wall will be a great help to reduce risk factor of GLOF in days ahead.

Shetubar Glacier

Shetubar glacier is situated on western side of Gulmit village, hulking down over the village. This glacier is3 surrounded by Hard Rock Mountains, releases its melt down into Hunza River. This beautiful glacier is packed with white snow not like Gulmit glacier which is burned under dark black debris.

Glacial lake outburst flood occurs almost every year, here again the watercourse is wide and deep enough which does less damage to crops, plants and land. The flood moves huge amount of debris from the high mountains to lower streams and if it blocks the stream for a shorter while it becomes pretty dangerous.

Sadly there is no official record of GLOF events, its frequency and damage ratio, conducting full-length study and keep an eye on glacial comportment will help to reduce GLOF risk.

Karakorum Highway (KKH), a major threat

No doubt Karakorum highway is a life line between Pakistan and China; it’s a major trade route which connects the economic giant China with rest of the world via Arabian Sea. KKH is the only route for commuters of Gojal valley to travel to southern part of Pakistan.

Apart from every good thing the well-known trade route is considered to be a major cause of environmental degradation in the region. In recent years Chinese Road and Bridge Constructions (CRBC– A Chinese Construction Company blacklisted in Turkey and Malaysia), started KKH expansion work. Till now CRBC has brutally violated the environment safety measures in the fragile region. Thousands of trees have been removed but there is no alternate plan for plantation.

The increasing number of traffic on KKH will double in near future; there is no set rule for fitness test of vehicles running in the area. These unnoticeable threats are doing great damage to delicate glaciers in the Gulmit and these actors are one of the reasons of GLOF in the region.

Post disaster scenario-rehabilitation of effected land of Gulmit

It’s pertinent to note that the famous Attbabad disaster has done great damage to cultivable lands, plants, buildings and business infrastructure. Many initiatives have been carried out to rehabilitate IDP’s (internal displaced persons) of the area, sadly no one paid attention to rehabilitate the damaged land of the area. These barren lands have been creating issues especially in harsh windy days, as the area is filled with sands and clay.

It’s high time to rehabilitate these damaged part of Gulmit village; plantation and related activities will help to preserve beauty and nature of the area.

Eco-tourism and Gulmit village

The tourists visiting Gulmit village is to a large extent are the lovers of natural sites. Sadly these heritage sites received low attention in every state of affairs. Pristine sites have been facing great threat from general tourists as they leave behind solid waste in major tourist destinations. Garbage and human waste left by mountaineering and trekking expeditions has become a serious issue especially on the more popular routes.

Guides and porters are lacking professional training and education to promote eco-tourism phenomena in the area, their involvement in collection of solid waste, and garbage on the high altitude mountain range could have been a help to reduce the risk factor in the most fragile highlands.

Land use and zoning is another important issue which the valley direly needs, general tourists are free to go wherever they want to go. Such scenario creates problems for locals living in the area and does great damage to the destinations especially to its natural asset.

To take off pressure from some of the highly visited area, the lesser-known tourist destinations needs proper promotion.

Alternate energy source

The locals rely on wood for cooking and heating, especially in the winter the locals cut big trees at massive scale for heating, as the winter season is pretty harsher. There is no alternate energy source to use in the kitchen or for heating.

This act is adversely affecting the cycle of fragile nature of highlands, which also increases the risk of glacial lake flood outburst GLOF. The number of trees has been reducing radically; the greenbelt area has been reduced severely with rapid increase in construction of buildings.

To protect these fragile natural assets, the local government and other stakeholders must come up with some practical solution by providing alternate energy source in the village and other part of Gojal valley. This will help to reduce the risk factor of GLOF and natural disasters.

Way Forward

  1. There is a dire need to conduct full-length study on Gulmit glacier and Shetubar glacier to assess risk factor.
  2. Defining standardized methodology for data collection
  3. Defining actors and factors adversely affecting environment and adapting result oriented strategies
  4. Defining, educating and implementing eco-tourism phenomena practically.
  5. Reducing the risk factor on KKH, considering the need and increasing number of traffic
  6. Reducing environmental damages during KKH expansion and bounding the CRBC to contribute through corporate social responsibility (CSR).
  7. Capacity building of various institutions in Gulmit village to educate people of the area.
  8. Improving socio-economic condition of people living in Gulmit village. 

Didar has a passion to write about arts, culture, environment, philosophy, politics, technology and tourism. He is also a cultural and social critic. He blogs at OINOMANCY and SHUPUN

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