More awareness needed to minimize GLOF destruction

The South Asian countries including Pakistan have witnessed increased frequency in GLOF incidents, which occur when the dams containing a glacial lake bursts unleash water downstream at a frightening speed. As a result, the devastating outburst of glacial floods like the recent one in Chitral district, wipe out everything which comes in their way.

Experts call for intraregional collaboration in South Asia to deal with common climate risks Environmentalist stressed the need of coordinated policy response to the outburst of glacial lake floods in Pakistan’s north at a two-day international conference on ‘Glacier Lake Outburst Floods: Challenges and Adaptation Solutions’, at a local hotel.

The conference was attended by climate change experts, scientists, policymakers, academia from Italy, the Netherlands, Afghanistan, Nepal and Bhutan to mention some. “It is a multi-dimensional challenge which requires strong partnership and multilateral cooperation to deal with it,” secretary ministry of climate change, Arif Ahmed Khan, said in his speech. He said GLOFs were dynamic in nature and involved various expertise for designing and implementation of adaptation and mitigation measures.

A multilateral cooperation, partnerships and coordination at national and regional scales are now a necessity, the secretary, ministry of climate change, said. According to the government official, to make the country resilient to GLOF incidents, the climate change ministry was collaborating with UNDP-Pakistan through UN’s Adaptation Fund.

The four-year climate change adaptation project titled ‘Reducing Risks and Vulnerabilities from Glacial Lake Outburst Floods in northern Pakistan’ was costing $7.6 million, to which Pakistani government contributed $3.5 million. Launched in Gilgit and Chitral, the project was aimed at developing human and technical capacity of public institutions to understand and address immediate GLOF risks for vulnerable communities.

Sharing success stories and achievement of the GLOF Pakistan Project, Arif Ahmed Khan told participants that the best possible and viable community-based approaches were introduced and tested in Bagrot valley (Gilgit) and Bindo Gol valley (Chitral) as a part of GLOF risk mitigation protect lives and livelihoods of vulnerable mountain communities living in GLOF-prone areas. “There was inadequate understanding of the severity of the GLOF risk and its impacts required to make policy measures to deal with the phenomenon. We now have enough knowledge about GLOF risks and viable measures,” said secretary of the ministry.

The ministry has already developed and submitted a $36 million project to the UN-led Green Climate Fund (GCF) for launching second phase of the GLOF project for scaling up and replicating GLOF project, he added. Deputy country director of the UNDP, Pakistan, Tracy Vienings, said that among all the climate change-related programmes initiated in the country, the GLOF Pakistan Project was a unique adaptation project, which had benefited thousands of households in Gilgit and Chitral, whose lives, livelihoods and homes had been made secure from the rising frequency of GLOF incidents. “No one can stop the outburst of the glacial lakes in Pakistan’s north. But efforts can be taken in the light of the GLOF Pakistan project to save the lives and livelihoods of the tens of thousands of poor mountain communities, which are now at the mercy of nature,” he stated.

National GLOF Pakistan Project Director and Joint Secretary (Development) at the climate change ministry, Aftab Ahmed Maneka said that GLOF incidents had resulted in a large-scale loss of lives and damages to community infrastructure, communication networks, roads, agriculture lands and livestock.

He observed the glaciers in Pakistan were retreating at a rate of between 40 to 60 meters in a decade, which is a much faster rate as compared to other regional countries. “Given the pace of melting of glaciers, around 3, 044 glacial lakes have been identified and mapped in Pakistan’s north, which is home to nearly 5, 000 glaciers. Some 36 of the identified glacial lakes have been declared potentially hazardous and on the verge of outburst anytime,” he said adding, “The severity of GLOF risk in the country merits response on war-footing basis.” Programme Manager for River Basins and Cryosphere and Atmosphere Project at the Nepal-based International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD), Arun Bhakta Shrestha, said the South Asia regional countries, particularly Pakistan, Nepal and Bhutan, are extremely vulnerable to GLOF risks.–Dawn

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