CHITRAL: Standing on the damaged bridge leading to his village in Golen Valley, Waliur Rehman surveys the devastation caused by the Aug 26 floods to houses, roads and bridges.
“Residents of the entire village could not sleep that night as they expected another glacial-lake outburst flood,” said Mr Rehman, general secretary of the Disaster Risk Management Committee of Golen valley.
All around him, villages in Golen valley are slowly being abandoned as villagers sell their lands, where they have lived for more than 300 years, to move to safer heights in Chitral region.
Rehman’s father, a septuagenarian, told him that he first witnessed the destruction by glacial-lake outburst flood (Glof) in 1978.
The locals called the calamity Azab-i-Ilahi (divine punishment) seeing the widespread destruction it brought to the region.
Back then, the locals had no idea what Glof was. However, the phenomenon has now become so frequent that not a year goes by without devastating Glofs. This year, there have been two such floods. Hardly had the local communities recovered the one in July when they were hit by another in Aug.
Villagers selling land to move to safer places
As Glofs have grown frequent and severe over the years, the only option available to the villagers besieged by a terrifying disaster is to dispense with the land that has sustained them for centuries and seek refuge elsewhere.
He said 70 per cent population of Isghzor and Baka villages in Golen valley wanted to migrate if the government arranged houses for them at other places as both villages were very vulnerable.
The Isghzor and Baka villagers couldn’t move to safe places as they were very poor and couldn’t afford construction of houses for themselves in other areas.
“The floods caused by glacial outbursts have become a deadly reality for us,” said a villager in Asghor area of Golen valley.
The village is threatened by the Jamishpalh glacier.
The horrifying floods caused by Glofs, said the villager, carried huge boulders and large chunks of ice that destroy everything that came in its way.
Since 1978 when the valley was first devastated by a Glof, the inhabitants of Golen valley have witnessed devastating flooding in 2010, 2016, 2019 and 2020.
Shafiqur Rehman, vice-chairman of the Disaster Risk Management Committee, told Dawn that around 16 families had sold out their all cattle in Isghzor village of Golen valley for being unable to arrange fodder for them after the flash floods destroyed their agricultural land.
“Such families are facing financial difficulties as the main source of livelihood - cattle and agricultural land - was no more,” he said.
The committee member also said four families had migrated to safe areas of the district, while six more families were ready to migrate but no one in the area was ready to purchase their land, considering it risky to purchase land in the area.
“These families will move to other area the very day someone purchases their land,” he said.
Though the climate change phenomenon has affected many countries, it has threatened the existence of 7,000 glaciers in Pakistan, which will create serious water crisis in future, said Fahad Bashir Bangash, national project manager for Glof-II project.
The initiative is funded by Green Climate Fund and executed by the climate change ministry in collaboration with the UNDP.
He said due to the rising temperatures, glaciers in the country’s northern mountain ranges, including Hindu Kush, Himalayas and Karakorum, were melting fast and a total of 3,044 glacial lakes had been developed in KP and Gilgit-Baltistan.
“Of these lakes, 124 were assessed recently to be prone to hazardous glacial lake outburst flood. These glaciers feed rivers that account for around 75 per cent of the stored water supply in the country,” he said.
Mr Bangash said the objectives of the Glof-II project were to reduce climate induced risks of Glofs in selected districts of GB and KP to fill the knowledge gaps and information about Glof disaster, update glacial lake inventory, and reduce human and material losses of vulnerable communities through the establishment of the community-based early warning system.
He said glaciers affected by climate change in KP were located in Arakari, Sorlaspur and Madaklasht of Chitral district, Kumrat valley of Upper Dir district, Gabral (Utror), Mataltan and Bishigram of Swat district, Kandia, Leo (Pattan) and Auchai of Kohistan district and Kaghan area of Mansehra district.
Published in Dawn, September 10th, 2020