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AWAY from the din of politics and the immediacy of militant strife, a disaster of enormous proportions is silently evolving in the Hindu Kush-Himalayan mountains up north, one that could in time impact the length and breadth of Pakistan. The peaks are home to some 15,000 glaciers which, as a result of rising temperatures, are retreating at an alarming rate of almost 40 to 60 metres a decade, leaving behind glacial lakes in their wake. Fifty-two such lakes, an inherently unstable phenomenon that can trigger devastating flash floods, have been classified as dangerous to human settlements. Parts of Gilgit-Baltistan and Chitral have already suffered floods on this count in 2010. The melting of the glaciers will also ultimately lead to a rise in sea levels, threatening coastal areas and cities such as Karachi. These facts were highlighted recently at a meeting to review the progress of a four-year project between the government and international organisations to deal with the fallout of climate change in Pakistan.

By most estimates, Pakistan will be one of the countries hardest hit by climate change. It is therefore encouraging that the government is taking steps such as setting up meteorological observatories at sites vulnerable to glacial lake outburst floods and the planned establishment of automated weather stations in the area which should lead to improved data collection, an essential requirement for a well-calibrated response. The project also aims to develop the capacity of the communities at risk. Given the widespread repercussions of climate change on all of Pakistan, the media could also play its part by highlighting the dangers posed by activities such as deforestation and the destruction of mangroves and encouraging environmentally friendly practices so that we are better prepared to meet the challenge.

Comments (3) Closed

haris Apr 08, 2013 11:21am
for media, perhaps elections are more important to cover than the imminent disaster awaiting to haunt us in days to come by. Thanks for informing us, may this piece is read by responsible authorities.
Ahmad Saleem Akhtar Apr 08, 2013 12:15pm
In addition to monitoring the scale of this problem, we should be planning to harness this extra water to alleviate our acute water and energy shortages.
Shabeh ul Hasson Apr 08, 2013 07:43pm
Right! The impact of climate change are worst over Pakistan but with due apology, this article is based on partially wrong (Warming in Northern Pakistan) and old statistics (Roohi, 2005) as frozen water resources are concerned. I am Phd. scholar at University of Hamburg, Germany and have been working on the climate change impacts on freshwater resources of Pakistan for last 6-7 years. True picture is that most of the observed record (Pakistan Meteorological Department and from WAPDA high altitude - DCP stations) show that the northern Pakistan features cooling tendency, positive mass balance of the Karakoram glaciers and consequently reduced melt water runoff. There is also new glacier inventory, RGI 2012 available online which differs significantly with the previous one (2005). Potentially dangerous lakes (52) were assessed based on 2000-01 satellite data so the present case may substantially differ from the reported one. I can provide the published research papers and links to the new data sets, if needed. Best regards, Shabeh ul Hasson Hamburg, Germany