The “Historical Climate Change Crisis” in Gilgit Baltistan

Gilgit Baltistan is home to some of the world’s highest peaks. It is also the region were the gigantic Himalayas, Hindu Kush, and Karakoram mountain ranges converge, forming thousands of peaks. Located among these massive peaks are over 7,000 glaciers, precious sources of fresh water! 

What’s becoming a major concern is that these glaciers are melting faster than before!

Residents of GB, the so-called “Paradise on Earth”, are increasingly experiencing hellish scenarios in the aftermath of climate-related disasters, the region’s deplting natural resources, like land, and the connected political and socioeconomic instabilities.

Though climate is an ecological crisis, according to Fraser, it is a “general crisis… of economy, society, politics, and public health… whose effects metastasize everywhere, shaking confidence in established worldviews and ruling elites” (Fraser 2021, 95).

Yes, as a result, climate change has a ripple effect, and it has rocked everything as postulated; the current situation in Gilgit Baltistan does not contradict the preceding assertion.

The climate crisis is like a train wreck in slow motion.

As a resident of Skardu, I can attest first-hand, along with other locals, to the quick changes in temperature and the season’s duration.

A study on the fluctuating temperatures in Great Britain was conducted using daily data from 1955 to 2018 and temperature evaluations. The results revealed a downward trend in the country’s summertime temperatures.

“The falling trends in summer temperatures decreased the flow of water in the Indus River and its tributaries, which seriously disturbed water supply in the upper valleys and lower plain areas for agricultural purposes,” the research noted. Therefore, the primary planting seasons—spring and summer—affect crop yields as well. The disparity in temperature between these seasons has a profound effect on fruit flavors and yields.

The flood of 2022 was destructive for the whole world. Though rain seems to give some relief, it has the potential to clean up and gather momentum when it comes to more quantity than usual. The Indus River and its numerous tributaries record their maximum volumes in the summer because of ice melting from the rugged highlands, maintaining a very constant equilibrium that has endured for ages. However, this balance has been upset by rising temperatures. Irreversible glacier melts have led to the creation of more than 3,000 glacial lakes in Gilgit-Baltistan, of which more than 30 are prone to glacial lake outburst floods, according to a report compiled by the Ministry of Climate Change in 2021.

The reprot further says that due to rising temperatures, glaciers in Pakistan’s northern mountain ranges (the Hindu Kush, Himalayas, and Karakorum) are melting rapidly, and a total of 3,044 glacial lakes have developed in Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP). Of these, 33 glacial lakes have been assessed to be prone to hazardous glacial lake outburst flooding (GLOF). GLOF are sudden events that can release millions of cubic meters of water and debris, leading to the loss of lives, property, and livelihoods amongst remote and impoverished mountain communities. Over 7.1 million people in GB and KP are vulnerable; in these areas, 26.7 percent and 22 percent of the population, respectively, are below the poverty line.

The devastation caused by the 2022 floods was unprecedented, as 17 people lost their lives during heavy rains and flash floods in Gilgit-Baltistan (GB), according to the Gilgit-Baltistan Disaster Management Authority (GBDMA). The Gilgit-Baltistan Disaster Management Authority (GBDMA) said that losses totaling Rs7,406 million had happened throughout GB, with 17 people having perished and six more being injured as a result of the floods. 22 powerhouses were harmed by the floods in Gilgit-Baltistan, according to GBDMA.There were 78 damaged drinking water supplies and 49 damaged roadways. In addition, 56 bridges sustained damage, and 500 irrigation canals suffered damage. According to the GBDMA, Rs7406 million in losses have resulted from the flood.

These are the facts. Most communities are aware of them and are implementing mitigating measures, but the government’s financial support is insufficient and not substantial enough. In fact, throughout the last 20 years, Pakistan’s contribution to greenhouse gas emissions has grown tremendously, from 0.3% of the global total at the turn of the millennium to 0.9% in 2021 (Government of Pakistan 2021).

Pakistan ranks among the top 20 global emitters of greenhouse gases (GHG) in absolute terms, yet it is a very small emitter per person. Methane in agriculture and carbon dioxide in the energy sector are the primary sources. The Pakistani authorities should prioritize mitigation, but in order to meet international GHG reduction obligations,we must step up our efforts. Reforming energy prices, subsidies, and taxes—which might potentially help raise substantial and easily obtainable funds—should be among the primary initiatives. e.g., to help finance the Sustainable Development Goals); implementing technology-based measures for green and inclusive development; and garnering more external support in the form of financing and know-how transfer.

Currently, the GB community is working on ice stupas. An oasis could be created in a parched region by utilizing pipes, gravity, and nighttime temperatures to create artificial glaciers at lower elevations. Instances of neighborhood-based and grassroots programs focused on sustainable development and environmental preservation: specialists from Baltistan University, a nearby institution, have teamed up with the people of Husainabad to construct man-made glaciers, also known as ice stupas. These structures, which resemble the towers found in Buddhist temples, are used to gather and store copious amounts of water during the winter so that it can be utilized during the dry season, especially in the months of March and April when water is most needed for the cultivation of wheat, maize, and potatoes. Sonam Wangchuk, an engineer in Ladakh, India, developed the method in 2013.

As we stand at the precipice of a defining moment in Gilgit Baltistan’s history, it is imperative that we unite in a concerted effort to confront the longstanding crisis of climate change. Through increased collaboration among communities, governments, and organizations, we can foster resilience and implement sustainable solutions to mitigate the adverse impacts of environmental degradation. Urgent investment in renewable energy, conservation initiatives, and infrastructure projects is essential to safeguarding the region’s ecological diversity and securing a prosperous future for generations to come. Let us advocate tirelessly for policy reforms, raise awareness, and mobilize resources to address this existential threat and pave the way towards a more sustainable and resilient Gilgit Baltistan.

The contributor is a student at Quaid-e-Azam University, Islamabad. He blongs to Skardu. 

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