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Emergency steps being planned after glacier surge in Gilgit-Baltistan

Updated February 16, 2019

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Authorities conduct aerial visit of Shisper Glacier surge, artificial lake created by it. — File photo
Authorities conduct aerial visit of Shisper Glacier surge, artificial lake created by it. — File photo

GILGIT: Emergency measures are being taken to mitigate the effects of a possible disaster which may be caused by Shisper Glacier surge and possible burst of an artificial lake in Hasanabad village in Hunza.

The Shisper Glacier, a few kilometres from Hasanabad village, started to surge in May last year. The unusual surge has blocked water flow from a stream originating in nearby Muchuhur Glacier, which normally falls into Hunza river at Hasanabad, thus forming an artificial lake.

The glacier is moving towards Hunza at a speed of seven metres per day and water level in the dammed lake is also increasing with each passing day, posing a threat to downstream areas.

Authorities conduct aerial visit of Shisper Glacier surge, artificial lake created by it

Commander of the Force Command Northern Areas (FCNA) Maj Gen Ehsan Mehmood Khan, Gilgit-Baltistan Chief Secretary retired captain Khurram Agha, Director General of the Gilgit-Baltistan Disaster Management Authority (GBDMA) Farid Ahmed and heads of the departments concerned along with representatives of local community carried out an aerial visit of the Shishper Glacier on Thursday to assess the emerging situation.

Addressing a community gathering in Hasanabad, the chief secretary and the FCNA commander assured the local people of their support in case of any untoward incident.

The chief secretary directed the relevant departments to carry out an assessment of houses and means of livelihood of the vulnerable people of Hasanabad.

He said that as per the contingency plan the GB government had stockpiled 40,000 wheat bags and medicines to cope with any crisis in case of a disaster.

According to an official press release, a team of experts, also from several national organisations, has been monitoring the movement of the glacier and its effects through satellite and ground visits since November 2018.

According to the experts, blasting/leakage of the Shisper Glacier through any means is not possible due to the surging nature of the glacier and its vast width.

After going through the reports, the experts and the GBDMA have come to the conclusion that three scenarios are possible in coming weeks in the event of a lake burst and/or further surging of the glacier towards human settlements.

Under the first scenario, it is expected that the lake will gradually release through crevices and the glacier may also melt gradually, resulting in normal to slightly above normal discharge of water. This situation will not create any hazard to the local people and installations downstream.

Under scenarios 2 and 3, medium to heavy discharge of water is expected which depends on weather conditions. A sudden rise in temperature during June and July may result in rapid melting of the glacier and a lake burst. This may create a hazardous situation, which can affect the people and installations downstream.

The press release said a contingency plan had been prepared to cope with any emergency situation.

According to it, the GB government is undertaking several proactive measures. Mock exercises for evacuation of people are being carried out. Safe routes for evacuation and safe havens have been identified to relocate the residents of Hasanabad in case of high water discharge from the lake during summer.

Protective work to safeguard public and private properties is underway and will be completed in given time frame. Funds to the tune of Rs31 million have been released to carry out protective works of urgent nature.

Arrangements to safeguard the irrigation channels and water supply networks from Hasanabad stream to central Hunza are to be undertaken.

In case of blockade of the Karakoram Highway at Hasanabad, a road network will remain linked to upper parts of the region through an alternative route via the Sas Valley, Nagar.

A makeshift bridge has been arranged by the National Highway Authority which will be shifted to the site of a bridge that may be washed away in case of a lake burst.

To reduce the risk of food shortage, the food department is stocking up food supplies for four to five months.

Published in Dawn, February 16th, 2019