“We are in a state of constant distress, not sure when we will be wiped out with this flood”, says Bibi Tawoos, a local resident. Referring to the recent flood she added, “The flood lasted for 35 hours and we saved our lives by taking shelter in our orchards and fields.”

Hunza valley, heaven on earth, faces the brunt of climate change impacts and is at a constant risk of induced disasters. A recent example is the danger posed by the surging Shisper glacier, in Hassanabad village of Hunza valley. This called for streamlining disaster risk management in the area.

Amidst 28 varying glaciers in the valley, Shisper, covers an area of almost 24.9 km2 with a length of 12 km. Originating from Shisper Peak, the glacier intercepts heavy glacial melt from its neighbouring Muchuhur glacier, resulting in an ice-dammed lake that was blocked by debris in November 2018. Considering its location adjacent to Karakoram Highway (KKH), an emergency has been declared by the government of Gilgit-Baltistan, to aware the locals for effective response and preparedness against any unforeseen Glacial Lake Outburst Flood (GLOF) events.

“Households are asked to evacuate; power plants and irrigation channels have been destroyed as a result of the flood water, also impacting the accessibility to drinking water for us”, says Mehmood Abbas, another villager impacted by the flood.

Satellite images from February 2021 suggest the lake length to be 650 meters, hence making the area highly vulnerable to the risk of an even bigger GLOF event. This warranted the need for an early warning system (EWS). 

Based on feasibility surveys, an Automated Weather Station (AWS) has been up and running since mid-March 2021, as the first step to a hi-tech EWS. It not only monitors lake movements but provides real time data to safeguard the communities from any potential glacial flood. River discharge measuring gauges have also been installed to further monitor and evaluate the existing situation. An alarm system connected to the AWS will be triggered in any emergent situation to prevent damages to infrastructure, livelihoods, and loss of human life.

Story by: Mahwish Bukhari, Communication and Reporting Officer, GLOF-II Project

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