Monday, September 19, 2011

Pakistan seeks to track flood risk from melting glaciers

Saleem Shaikh and Sughra Tunio in AlertNet: Pakistan is expanding its network of glacier monitoring stations in the Himalayas, in an effort to improve understanding of glacier melt and provide better warning of floods. But some experts say it’s not happening fast enough, as the country continues to be hit by disasters.

Massive flooding in mid-2010 affected some 20 million people and destroyed 1.6 million homes in the South Asian nation. The floods - which inundated up to one-fifth of the country over several weeks as water swept down the Indus River from north to south - were caused by a combination of glacier melt and heavy monsoon rains.

So far this monsoon season, some 5.4 million people have been affected by flooding in the southern provinces of Sindh and Balochistan. Nearly 1 million homes have been destroyed and close to three quarters of crops lost in the worst-affected areas.

These emergencies have increased pressure on the government to do more to protect people from floods and adapt to climate shifts. One way it’s responding is by closer tracking of glacier melt, which experts says is speeding up and could worsen flooding in the coming years.

Over the past seven years, Pakistan has installed five glacier monitoring stations in its northern mountainous areas, each costing around $20,000. In July, the Pakistan Meteorological Department (PMD) set up the highest of these at the Baltoro glacier in northern Gilgit-Baltistan province, some 4,750 metres above sea level, in collaboration with Italian research organisation EV-K2-CNR.

Ghazanfar Ali, a prominent glaciologist at the Global Change Impact Study Centre in Islamabad, said the stations are providing information that can be used to protect people from flash floods and make management of water resources more efficient....

The Baltoro Glacier (in the background) is the source of the Braldu River. Trango Cathedral on the far left (among others). Shot by Stuart Orford, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license

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