THESE two photos were captured from roughly the same location in Upper Chitral, at around the same time of year, 38 years apart. The photo on the left, taken in July 1973, shows the impressive white face of the Chhatiboi glacier as its snout debouches into the River Yarkhun. The photo on the right was taken in 2011, showing how the glacier had dwindled into nothingness. The twin peaks of Chikor Zom (Gahkush 1 and 2) can be seen in the background.—Photos by Shimlawalla
THESE two photos were captured from roughly the same location in Upper Chitral, at around the same time of year, 38 years apart. The photo on the left, taken in July 1973, shows the impressive white face of the Chhatiboi glacier as its snout debouches into the River Yarkhun. The photo on the right was taken in 2011, showing how the glacier had dwindled into nothingness. The twin peaks of Chikor Zom (Gahkush 1 and 2) can be seen in the background.—Photos by Shimlawalla

THESE pictures were taken from the same spot, around the same time of year — but 38 years apart.

In 1973, this magnificent vertical wall of white, about 100 foot in height, was right at the edge of the river — all crystal clear in blue and white, quite reminiscent of the glaciers in the polar regions and Alaska.

The glacier is called Chhatiboi and its snout debouches onto Yarkhun River in Upper Chitral, located in the Hindu Kush mountain range. It lies opposite the village of Vidinkot, adjacent to the village of Pechus.

The glacier is nearly seven miles long.

In 1973, the uniqueness of its snout was striking, since most other glaciers — be they in the Himalayas, Karakoram or Hindu Kush — are filled with moraine debris and are essentially very ugly, to say the least.

But in 2011, 38 years later, the same glacier had dwindled to nothingness. Millions of tons of ice had melted, never to be replenished again.

This catastrophe has only come about in the last 20 years or so. In 2023, this glacier has further retreated and thinned out, with a muddy lake of about 1,200 feet in diameter forming between the river and its snout. In the last 12 years, the exponential and geometrical increase in temperatures has far exceeded which happened between, say, the 1950s and the 1970s.

Scientific bards in Europe and the World Meteorological Organisation classified the month of July, 2023 as the hottest ever since the 1880s. According to Nasa data, the five hottest Julys since 1880 have all happened in the past five years. Even greenhouse gases and carbon emissions broke all records this year.

Next year, it may be more of the same, or perhaps a trifle hotter. With exponential heat building each year, it would not be out of place to say that a decade or so from now, this glacier would completely vanish.

In this vast mountain basin, there are just a handful of other glaciers that are longer than this one — the longest being around 17 miles. The riparians of these waters are two to three hundred miles downstream, and in the next 10 to 15 years, they will have very little water with which to farm their fields. It’s going to affect the lives of roughly 30 odd million people, even though estimates put the population of this region at around 80 million by the year 2040.

There is just no getting away from this; it is a doomsday scenario.

Published in Dawn, November 28th, 2023

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