GLOF threats

Published July 9, 2024

THE threat that glacial lake outburst flooding poses to northern communities is considerable, as people in Gilgit-Baltistan recently experienced. Hundreds of people in Skardu have become homeless as raging floods, triggered by melting glaciers, have swept away homes and crops along the Burgi nullah. Local people say the flash flooding has also damaged their water supply. The PDMA has issued GLOF alerts for northern KP as well. It has warned that warming temperatures are likely to persist till mid-July, meaning that GLOF events, flash floods and landslides are very likely. Unfortunately, as the world warms, such climate-induced events are likely to become more common; the only way out is for the state and local communities to adapt to the changing circumstances.

The immediate need is for the state to come to the aid of the affected communities in GB, and prepare settlements in KP for what lies ahead. But the bigger picture conveys that mitigation and adaptation are the only ways that mountain communities can protect themselves against nature’s wrath. The state has, working with the UN, started to make some efforts towards addressing the GLOF challenge. As per the world body, glaciers in the Hindu Kush, Himalayas and Karakoram ranges are melting rapidly, and over 3,000 glacial lakes have formed in GB and KP. Around 33 of these are said to pose significant hazards, putting over 7m people in harm’s way. As recommended by experts, interventions such as early warning systems, as well as plantation, drainage structures and mini-dams can help protect people and crops from the ravages of GLOFs. And as the Skardu deputy commissioner has observed, people should refrain from encroaching along nullahs and watercourses as this stops the natural flow of the water. Halting global warming is beyond our control; what the state can do, along with affected communities and global experts, is to implement plans that mitigate the effects of rising temperatures.

Published in Dawn, July 9th, 2024

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