KARACHI, April 4: Pakistani glaciers are receding at an alarming rate of almost 40 to 60 metres a decade as a result of the rapidly changing climatic conditions, said speakers at a meeting held here in a hotel on Thursday.

They added that 52 lakes in the northern areas had been classified as potentially dangerous to human settlements.

The phenomenon, which might lead to a rise in the sea level, was as much a matter of concern for the Karachiites as it was for people in the north, they said. The gathering aimed at developing partnerships with key stakeholders on a project, ‘Reducing risks and vulnerabilities from glacial lake outburst floods in northern Pakistan’, a joint effort of the government, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and Adaptation Fund.

On the project’s background, the audience was informed that the Hindu Kush-Himalayan region had the largest area in the world covered by glaciers and permafrost. It had about 15,000 glaciers, nature’s renewable storehouse of fresh water. The region was the cradle of nine major river systems in Asia whose basins were home to over 13 billion people.

“As glaciers retreat, glacial lakes form behind moraine or ice dams. Because of their inherent instability, such dams are extremely vulnerable to sudden outbursts/breaches called glacial lake outburst floods (GLOF). Such outbursts can lead to a release of millions of cubic metres of water and debris in a few hours with the peak flows as high as 15,000 cubic metres a second,” said Khalil Ahmed, national manager of the project.

In this context, he cited examples of the Bagrot valley in Gilgit-Baltistan and the Bindo Gol valley in Chitral, which faced flooding on account of GLOF in 2010. The frequency of glacial lake outbursts floods, he said, had increased in the country due to climate change and, given those conditions, the government launched a four-year project in 2011 with an allocation of $7.6 million with international support.

“The major purpose is to develop capacity of public institutions to understand and address immediate GLOF risks for vulnerable communities in northern areas, besides enabling vulnerable communities to better respond and adapt to growing climate change pressures,” he said.

The Bagrot valley, one of the project sites, he said, was considered at a high risk of GLOF from the Bagrot glacier. The valley covered 1,800 households with a population of 16,000 people and existed at a distance of 40 kilometres from Gilgit.

The other project site, the Bindo Gol valley in Chitral, was located in the vicinity of the Gohkir and Bindogol glaciers. It covered 1,000 households with a population of almost 10,000 and was situated 65km from Chitral.

On the project’s progress, he said a number of measures had been taken that included the establishment of meteorological observatories at the two sites, preparation of socioeconomic impact and documentary case studies of the two project sites and launch of capacity need assessment exercise in Islamabad, Chitral and Gilgit.

Feasibility surveys for the establishment of automatic weather stations had been completed and necessary equipment for installation had been procured, he said.

It was also pointed out during the programme that glaciers had a deep connection with the sea and the people of Karachi should be as concerned about glacier melting as those living in the north as the phenomenon would finally lead to a rise in the sea level.

Mohammad Atif Wazir representing the metrological department gave a presentation on the research surveys conducted at the project sites and said the department planned to set up 23 automated weather stations at different sites.

Giving their feedback, stakeholders from the audience underlined the need for community involvement in the project and creating awareness of the issue through the media. They suggested that a holistic, integrated and multi-disciplinary approach should be adopted to make the project sustainable and successful.

They also urged the project executors to prepare a hazard zone map of vulnerable areas and take short- and long-term measures, such as checking activities of the timber mafia and increasing forest area, minimising the risk of landslides and flash floods.

They also stressed that coordination among government departments and establishment of early warning systems and disaster management plans in vulnerable areas were required.

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