Back in July 2020, the people of Hassanabad, a tiny village in Pakistan’s mountainous Hunza District, witnessed water-levels rapidly rising in nearby streams. The subsequent flood that erupted, carrying huge boulders of melting glacier, ravaged the village and destroyed the livelihood of thousands of locals. A few days ago, the meteorological department issued a GLOF (glacial lake outburst flood) alert for the same village, since there is a threat of a lake bursting due to a surge in Shishper glacier’s melting — an event that will intensify in the coming 3 to 4 weeks, experts claim. The area is one of 24 valleys in northern Pakistan that is under direct threat from glacial lake outburst floods.
Scientists have long predicted that the melting of glaciers, owing to the rise in global temperatures, would pose a serious threat to billions around the world. But they too remain astounded at the rate at which the event is unfolding. Such a phenomenon would entail disastrous consequences for Pakistan since the country has the greatest number of glaciers — more than 7,000 — in the world, outside the polar regions. All in all, millions of people remain vulnerable, especially communities living in the northern parts of the country who rely on glacier for consumption and agricultural purposes.
The melting glaciers not only pose a threat to the surrounding environment but due to subsequent flash floods all nearby localities are at grave risk. The threat, however, doesn’t end here. Many researchers claim that the climate change crisis will destabilise Asia’s rivers, the effects of which will reverberate throughout the whole southern continent. With millions of people at the mercy of prayers and thousands unaware of the looming threat, the Government of Pakistan and the UNDP need to work together in order to protect and empower local communities. However, it is far more important to push the initiative at the international level.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 5th, 2021.