Surge in Melting Glaciers in Pakistan Raise Flood Risks
Late last month, inhabitants of Hassanabad, in Pakistan’s mountainous region Hunza, saw floodwaters swiftly rising in the river that flows near their houses, bringing water from the elevated Shishper glacier.
The ensuing flood, bearing large rocks from the melting glacier, destroyed the cherry, apricot, and walnut farms many households depend on and left houses cracked, 16 families in tents and local irrigation and hydropower systems destroyed.
The area is one of 24 valleys in northern Pakistan cataloged to bear warning systems, between 2018 and 2022, for glacial lake discharge floods using $37m in funding from the Green Climate Fund.
But work has been paused as a consequence of disagreements between the partners – the UN Development Programme-Pakistan and the federal Ministry of Climate Change – as well as by a change of government and now the pandemic, stated Ayaz Joudat, national program director for the project.
However, that delay was recently resolved, he said, and hiring now will begin at the end of June, installing the first early warning systems on glaciers by September.
Amanullah Khan, UNDP-Pakistan’s assistant country director, acknowledged the shelved project was now “up and operating.”
With more than 7,000, Pakistan has more glaciers than anyplace, excluding the polar regions.
But global climate change is “eating away Himalayan glaciers at a dramatic rate,” a study published last year within the journal Science Advances noted.
As glacier ice melts, it can gather in large glacial lakes, which are in jeopardy of exploding their banks and conceiving deadly flash floods downstream in areas like Hassanabad.
More than 3,000 of these lakes formed as of 2018, with 33 of them considered hazardous and quite 7 million in danger downstream, consistent with UNDP.
To decrease the risks, pilot funding from the UN Adaptation Fund from 2011 to 2016 acquired two lake eruption warning systems, flood protection walls, and neighborhood mobility efforts in Chitral District and the Gilgit Baltistan province.
The new project aims to put in similar systems in northern Pakistan in 15 districts and build other infrastructure to scale back risks, including flood walls in villages like Hassanabad.
That meeting is likely to pick up over the summer months, he said, noting that “June to September will be dangerous,” particularly after a winter of heavy snowfall.
Baig, who flew over the Shishper glacier during a helicopter recently, said the ice still lacked an early warning monitor for outburst floods. However, as a first step, Pakistan’s Meteorological Department had installed an automatic weather station last June.
He said that a UNDP-Pakistan unit arrived last year to evaluate the glacier. There was a discussion about an automatic alert system that meant to be set, but no activity was taken.
The Gilgit Baltistan area had undergone a 3rd more snowfall than routine, which could enhance flood hazards, the chairman of Pakistan’s National Disaster Management Authority informed last month.
Residents of Hassanabad said the planned work on a warning system is exceptionally urgent, as summer heat raises the threat level.
“We don’t care about all this bureaucratic procedure. We want better protective walls for our village and a correct early warning system,” Qadir said.
“This upcoming summer, there’ll be more flooding, and people will suffer.”