GILGIT: A small glacier melt has swollen Barsuwat Nullah in the Ishkoman valley of Ghizer district, Gilgit-Baltistan, creating an artificial lake and blocking the flow of the Immit River.
The water has submerged more than 30 houses, cultivated land, a link road and cattle farms and washed away over a dozen vehicles and hundreds of cattle head in the upstream areas.
The Barsuwat area lies at a distance of 60km from Gahkuch, the district headquarters of Ghizer district. The Ishkoman valley is situated near the Pakistan- Afghanistan border area.
Houses, cultivated land flooded
Deputy Commissioner of Ghizer Shuja Alam said that the Barsuwat glacier started melting on Tuesday at about 7pm. Water from the melting glacier, containing mud and stones, fell into Barsuwat Nullah and caused flooding. The nullah ultimately falls into the Immit River whose flow has been blocked and the stagnant water has created an artificial lake similar to Attabad Hunza lake, disconnecting upstream villages from other areas.
The Immit River finally joins the River Indus in the Gilgit area.
According to the DC, an area spread over about 2km has been flooded and around 10 small villages including Barsuwat, Berth, Yazbeen and Qarandan, consisting of 180 households (600 individuals), have been completely cut off from other areas.
The road link to the upstream areas has been cut off at Bilhanz as around 150-meter section of the road has been washed away.
Mr Alam said around 31 houses (24 upstream and 7 downstream) had been affected and the families living in these houses shifted to safe locations.
Hundreds of kanals of cultivated land have been submerged and crops damaged.
The DC said the details of the impact of the disaster would appear only after assessment of the damage.
According a press release issued by the Gilgit-Baltistan Disaster Management Authority (GBDMA), a team of administration officials along with GBDMA staff has reached the location of the river blockade. Tents for the displaced families have been sent to Barsuwat and a medical team with medicines has been directed to reach the Bilhanz dispensary. Food has been sent for the stranded people.
Representatives of volunteer organisations have also moved to the river blockade site to participate in relief activities Replying to a question, Mra Alam said the Barsawut glacier melted every two to three years in summer. In 2015 also, the glacier had melted and the water had blocked the river, causing difficulties to the local people.
This year also the current heatwave has caused the melting of the glacier.
Sources said that water level was increasing at the river blockade site, which might pose a threat to the people living along the river in Ghizer and Gilgit areas.
People living downstream, particularly those living at vulnerable places along the river in the Gilgit area, have been warned to shift to safe places if the artificial lake starts overflowing.
When contacted, Director of the GB Environmental Protection Agency Shehzad Shigri told Dawn that these types of incidents were linked with climate change.
According to him, this year snow has fallen late season. Usually snow falls in October to January and converts into glaciers which are not affected by heatwave.
The snow falling in February to March cannot convert into glaciers and when heat rises in summer, the snow starts melting, resulting into floods and avalanches.
Mr Shigri said temperature pattern had changed in the region as climate change had affected the fragile environment of the region.
Published in Dawn, July 19th, 2018