Pakistan: Glaciers collapse and cause flooding. Serious injury

Saturday, May 7th Shishper Glacierin the Gilgit-Baltistan region of Pakistan, was hit by collapse of a glacier lakea so-called GLOF, Glacial Lake Outbreak Flood. Concept that jumped off on the international media in the wake of a tragedy that befell the Uttarakhand in February 2020: the collapse of the Nanda Devi Himalayan glacier. This is a phenomenon closely associated withthermal rise, which weakens the moraines, the natural banks of the basins that occur in the glacier area, leading to the release of large amounts of water in free fall from the peaks towards the valley. The water released by the GLOF of the Shishper Glacier, ca. 200,000 litersoverturned downstream and caused a flood wave that swept away an important connection between Pakistan and China: Hassanabad broalong Karakorum Highway.

The injuries count

The impossibility of using the Hasanabad Bridge, connection between the lower and upper Hunza valley, has identified the need to find an alternative route. Vehicle traffic was diverted through the villages of Murtazabad and Ganish, but it was impossible to find a solution for heavy vehicles. The river’s flow has dropped since Sunday, prompting authorities to plan quickly to build a new bridge. Within a month, according to the National Highway Authority (NHA), a preliminary contingency plan will be set up. Within 6-8 months, one hopes to be able to admire a new final construction.

Meanwhile, the number of injuries is still uncertain. Fortunately, there do not appear to be any casualties. Beyond the bridge they would be many pipes broken for the transport of water for drinking and irrigation in the area, two energy production plants of Hassanabad and a “Jamaat Khana” temple. 4 houses under water, over 20 of them were evacuated as a precautionary measure. As reported by the authorities, residents and tourists were helped from the first moments of emergenciesprovide them with food and fuel and hospitality, with the support of housing structures.

The blame for a heat wave?

The GLOFs are favored by the rise in temperature, it sounded at the opening. As reported by Senator Sherry Rehman, Pakistan’s Federal Minister for Climate Change, the cause of the disaster must be found in the weakening of the already fragile glacier structures, caused by latest heat wave which affected the valley. Dr. Sher Mohammad, a remote sensing specialist at the International Center for Integrated Mountain Development, stated according to satellite data that the collapsed glacial lake has recently seen a 15% increase in size compared to the last 3 years, probably due to an early melting of the glaciers in the northern part of Pakistan, favored by the heat wave of recent weeks.

Shifting attention from a meteorological to a climatic dimension, it is clear that the case of the Shishper Glacier cannot be considered isolated. That is to be expected GLOFs will occur in the short future with increasing frequency, not only in Pakistan and not only along the Himalayan region due to the increase in the frequency of thermal anomalies – heat waves – but more generally due to the continuous rise in the average temperature of the planet. With specific reference to the area on the Indian subcontinent, Scottish meteorologist Scott Duncan spread an alarming figure in a tweet: in the near future, the area will present thermal peaks of 50 ° C. “Unfortunately, the worst has not yet come”the dramatic words of the meteorologist.

A future already written

Clearly, the only solution to the problem remains prevention. Read: monitoring. To inform the authorities in good time about the risks at the valleys and to allow the implementation of action plans. This is important for the government, as highlighted in recent days the population does not feel abandoned in light of advancing climate change and the increase in the frequency of glacial collapse.

The Shishper Glacier has been monitored for some time, and experts can be said to have witnessed the birth of the insulting glacier lake. In 2018 the glacier was the subject of one “undulating”, an acceleration in its physiological slippage, which caused the dam of a stream originating from the meltwater of the nearby Muchuhur Glacier, which fed Hunza in Hassanabad. One was thus formed ice dam which favored the formation of an artificial lake, characterized by winter water accumulation and summer discharges. GLOF on Saturday represented a de facto suddenly and out of season phenomenon, announced by the increase in the size of the lake, highlighted by satellite. In some ways, a catastrophe was predicted.

Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari stressed the authorities’ obligation to guarantee the safety of the people and the usability of the roads in the event of a recurrence of similar emergencies. In particular, it is the region of Gilgit-Baltistan the one most at risk of GLOF as it is an area where the major Pakistani glaciers are concentrated. The Minister added that the problem is Pakistani, but that the fight against climate change can only be carried out effectively with an international commitment. In order to jointly reason on what to do to protect glaciers and prevent the effects of climate change, the government intends to organize a international conference by experts.

The video of the bridge collapsing

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