Melting glaciers

Published April 19, 2024

AFTER several rain-related deaths in KP in recent days, the Provincial Disaster Management Authority has sprung into action to minimise the chances of further loss of life, property, crop and infrastructure. Potential glacial lake outburst floods, caused by melting glaciers, are a principal concern, and administrations in nine districts have been directed to regularly monitor these rivers of ice in Chitral, Swat, Mansehra, Kohistan, Dir and Kurram, with the help of local communities, and report hazards. Once again caught unawares by unusually devastating rains in many parts of the country — especially Balochistan — it is time that the disaster management authorities reinforced flood monitoring systems in view of increasing extreme weather events that often unleash flash floods in the hilly areas and beyond.

Pakistan is facing a serious climate challenge, which is exacerbating its lingering economic crisis, and water and food insecurity, as well as increasing poverty. In September 2022, the country suffered massive losses of $30bn in crop and infrastructure damage, and lost 1,700 lives in unprecedented floods caused by record-breaking rains. Millions of people who had lost their homes and livelihoods then, still remain displaced after almost two years. The impact of increasing climate disasters is being aggravated by the rapid melting of Pakistan’s 7,000 glaciers as inundation caused by ‘outburst floods’ continues to endanger the lives and property of those living in the catchment areas, forcing local communities to migrate. A third of the country’s glaciers are projected to melt by the turn of this century, and saving them appears to be a lost cause. Therefore, it is imperative for disaster authorities to adapt their monitoring and response strategies as the first line of defence and improve risk management in general to contend with shrinking glaciers and climate-induced events overall. These strategies must focus on early warning systems to alert communities in time, create fiscal room to rescue and rehabilitate the affected people, and develop climate-resilient infrastructure.

Published in Dawn, April 19th, 2024

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