NEWS coming in from Gilgit about the potential formation of another glacial lake in Ghizer district should give pause to the big plans being made in nearby areas. Further details are awaited as proper damage assessments are carried out, but it is now known that a glacial lake in Ishkoman valley is increasing in size and had already flooded an area of 10km at the time of writing; meanwhile water continues to pour in. With an extraordinary heatwave in the area this summer, the melting of the Barsuwat glacier has been more rapid than normal, and the debris that blocked the mouth of the river has caused a large lake to form above it. The lake now poses a danger to those living along its perimeter, and significantly, also to downstream areas that include Gilgit, because if it grows and bursts the blockage, it will send a torrential flood of muddy water and heavy debris hurtling down the river.
As time passes, more such dangerous situations should be expected in the mountainous north of the country. Chitral district has already seen multiple glacial lake outburst floods in recent years, most significantly in 2015 when large parts of the district were destroyed by them. According to a UNDP estimate, more than 3,044 glacial lakes have already formed in Gilgit-Baltistan and KP, of which 33 are considered hazardous. Now another one has emerged in a key location, potentially posing a risk to an important city like Gilgit. With all the plans being made in this area for future transit trade, the importance of paying closer attention to climate and environmental hazards cannot be overstated. There can be much debate on the steps required in the long term to manage these risks, but for now immediate attention should be given to Ghizer district to release the waters that are building up and prevent the lake from becoming so large that it destroys livelihoods on a large scale and increases the risk to populations downstream.
Published in Dawn, July 20th, 2018