Pakistan: Preparedness to Glacial threats in the Shimshal Valley
The Khurdopin Glacier is among the four threating glaciers of Shimshal valley in Pakistan. The glacier is surrounded by high mountains and wide glaciers, making it a natural beauty, a sought after climbing destination, and also a large threat to the communities which inhabit its serene landscapes. The environment is prone to frequent floods and avalanches which threaten its populations mobility and livelihoods.
The Khudopin glacier, stretching 41km wide and almost 2km deep poses a greater threat than its neighboring glaciers due to the effects of climate change in the region. The climate has caused the glacier to progress abnormally resulting in the creation of a temporary lake, which blocks water inflow from the adjacent glacier. Melting of this glacier further increases the flood risk in this area. Floods and blockages to the region prevent food and medicines from reaching the villages, as well as damaging communication channels to this remote region, leading to critical life threatening living conditions.
The Aga Khan Agency for Habitat (AKAH) Pakistan in collaboration with United States Agency for International Development (USAID) Small Grants and Ambassador’s Fund Program has launched a project in 2016 which aimed at building community’s resilience against glacier events in Shimshal valley.
Under this project the four existing critical glaciers of Shimshal were assessed by the experts and a team of geologists. Local residents were then trained to monitor the glacier for signs of an emerging hazard. This community based monitoring system and weather monitoring posts can act as early warning systems, alerting communities to threats before they occur.
This awareness about their environment and knowledge sharing sessions provide a platform to the community to share their past experiences of natural disaster as well as to learn the techniques of response in emergencies though practical drills on first aid, evacuation and crisis communications etc. Through AKAH’s support, the communities are also equipped with an emergency stockpile which comprises of food and shelter items and some essential tools for search and rescue to cope with an emergency situation at village level. “The awareness raising sessions and emergency response drills at the community level have made us learn about hazards and the immediate steps we need to take as a first responders, so women and children in our village feel much safer than they did a few years ago,” says 39 years old Zeenat from Shimshal Village.
Through this initiative AKAH developed a knowledge sharing platform with the Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) Forum in Gilgit, where they are in close interaction with the government authorities to share the situations and through these partnerships, they can solve related issues. More recently, drones have been used to further monitor the activity of the glaciers.