Glacier melting in Gilgit –Baltistan
- Disaster-affected people need immediate succour
The 7,253 known glaciers of Pakistan, earth’s biggest ice pack outside the Polar Regions, while a valuable source of water for domestic and cultivation purposes, are turning into a source of misery for local inhabitants, as flooding, landslides and avalanches from the towering peaks can bring sudden death, financial ruin and dislocation in their wake. The idyllic and scenic pastoral landscape can quickly transform for the rugged dwellers of these mountainous regions, with villages and cultivated land inundated, makeshift bridges washed away, people marooned and left at the mercy of the elements, lacking food, shelter and medical facilities.
The impact of climate change and global warming, especially in the fragile environment of those rarefied heights, has recently again released glacier floodwaters, creating an artificial lake in Ishkoman valley of Ghizer district, due to a recent heat wave, which has so far caused two deaths, cut off Gilgit-Baltistan from the rest of the country, partly submerged the Karakoram Highway, immersed houses, caused dislocation of hundreds of local residents, and swept away crops and livestock, while the fear of the artificial lake bursting its temporary banks and causing havoc among adjacent areas, even crashing downstream into Gilgit, remains a looming, frightening possibility. It is now time for the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) to coordinate swiftly with its G-B wing, shift the endangered people to safer places, provide tents, blankets, emergency medical facilities and packaged meals, by helicopter services where needed, so that precious human lives are saved, and citizens of that region feel that government really cares about them. Handsome compensation should also be paid to help them tide over their unexpected losses.
Unfortunately, the impact of climate change in G-B will multiply manifold in the coming decades with diminished snowfall, higher temperatures, denudation, as well as quantum population rise, and it is imperative that funding for NDMA is enhanced, modern equipment provided and that it comprises exceptionally well trained and motivated field staff. Future artificial Attabad Hunza and Ghizer lakes are inevitable in that unstable, treacherous terrain, but upgraded disaster policies and practices must also firmly be in place. Politicians should also accord the matter of global warming top priority.
Published in Pakistan Today [Editorial] on July 21, 2018