Climate Emergency and Gilgit-Baltistan’s Future

Syed Samad Shah

Just like the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) had predicted a couple of weeks back, a massive heat wave hit Pakistan, and many neighboring regions, hiking temperatures by 7 to 9 degrees, above the average for this season. The Pakistan Metreological Deparment soon issued a warning above floods, specifically mentioning the Shisper Glacier in Hunza, which has flooded the valley many times during the last few years. Althought the glacier has caused massive floods in the past also, the locals believe that they have not experienced floods of this magnitude, happening frequently, in the recent past.

Gilgit-Baltistan, where the Shisper Glacier, a relatively smaller glacier, is home to some of the longest glaciers in the world, outside the poles. Gilgit-Baltistan is also highly prone to massive floods and natural disasters.

Fears are being expressed that the impact of climate change, triggered by global warming, is getting manifested in this part of the world, where there are no major industries.

Varoius studies have suggested that the Gilgit-Baltistan region will be experiencing more adverse impacts of climate change. Reports of the formation of glacial lakes are becoming more frequent. Reports of flood, and their impact on human settlements, are also becoming more frequent. United Nations Development Program (UNDP) has reported that a total of more than 3000 lakes have formed in the region of Gilgit Baltistan. 33 of these lakes, unfortunately, are reportedly prone to Glacial Lake Outburst Floods (GLOFs).

The Hussainabad village was battered by a GLOF, destroying public and private land and infrastructure and disrupting the lives of the people of the Hunza District, by damaging power houses, destroying a strategic bridge and cutting water supply for irrigation and houshold consumption to varoius villages.

The vulnerable community living in the vicinity of the Shishper Glacier had already raised their concerns regarding the possible emergency in the valley, however, the concerned authorities did not pay much attention to the said matter.

In 2018, a similar GLOF event hit Badswat village in Ishkomen valley as well. According to DAWN news, more than 35 houses were completely swept away along with livestock and ready crops.

It is important to ask ourselves some tough questions! Did we learn from the past events? Are we prepared for future GLOF events? Do we appreciate and understand the enormity of the challenge at hand?

The answer is a big NO!

It is a fact that natural hazards are tough to stop, but we can surely reduce the losses through planning and mitigatory measures. We can plan to reduce the impact of human activity on the glaciers and environment. Also, through hazard assessment and mapping, we can ensure constructions at safer locations. We can also take smaller steps at the grassroots levels to engage the masses.

However, the concerned authorities, as well as the public, are still not serious about the disasters and destructions lurking at our doors. This non-serious attitude of the authorities will cost our region dearly in the future.

Instead of promoting mass tourism, for popular short term gains, why can’t we plan more prudently to save our region through legislation, planning and preparedness?

Let’s hope agianst hope that the concerned authorities will realize that climate change is a human security issue and not just a fancy term that can be used on colorful pamphlets and banners to “walk” down the litter-filled roads once every year!

Syed Samad Shah works as an Assistant Director (Planning) at the Federal Government Employees Housing Authority, Ministry of Housing and Works, Islamabad. He is a graduate research student of MS Urban and Regional Planning at National University of Sciences and Technology (NUST), Islamabad.

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