Sunday, May 30, 2010

Pakistan lake disaster triggers new displacements

Zofeen Ebrahim in IPS: Up until Saturday the Attabad Lake in northern Pakistan had been rising one metre every day and was thus on the verge of breaking its banks, observed Lieutenant General Nadeem Ahmed, chairman of the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA). In the last four months, the water level had been rising in the lake due to glacial melting, swelling it to 18.5 kilometres long and 107 metres deep, he explained.

Then what he had feared all along happened over the weekend when the Attabad Lake in the Hunza Valley in northern Pakistan broke its banks, which were overtopped with water flowing into the spillway. The water pressure is low but the artificial lake could burst in the next 12 hours, resulting in massive floods in the region, said Ahmed. If that happens, he said, another major disaster could be in the offing.

On Jan. 4, following a snowstorm, a massive landslide hit the village of Attabad, in Pakistan-controlled Gilgit-Baltistan (G-B), an autonomous territory in the northern part of the South Asian country with an estimated population of one million. Initially, it forced some 1,200 people to evacuate their homes. The resulting debris blocked Hunza River, located in the G-B region, creating a lake now known as Attabad Lake. As the lake swelled, another village, Sarat, was also submerged while two others were inundated by floodwaters.

"As a result of the formation of the lake, four bridges that linked 16 villages upstream and the 22-kilometre Karakoram Highway linking Pakistan to China have been submerged in water," said Asif Hussain, spokesperson of the Pakistan Red Crescent Society (PRCS) in G-B.

…Landslides and flash floods are a seasonal occurrence in the G-B region, which is surrounded by the Himalayas and the Hindu Kush and Karakoram mountain ranges….

Dark rock covers the river in the upper left corner of the image, and the turquoise V-shaped lake stretches out behind the slide. Near the temporary lake, the Karakoram Highway is a faint meandering line of pale brown. A bridge across the Hunza River has been submerged by the rising waters. NASA Earth Observatory

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