Nestled between the tranquil and picturesque mountains of Gilgit-Baltistan, in northern Pakistan, Shimshal valley faces problems of accessibility during intense and frequent natural disasters. such as glacial lake outburst floods (GLOFs) and snow avalanches. When avalanches occur, communities are cut off from neighbouring villages and travel becomes difficult for long periods of time until the roads are cleared and in some instances rebuilt.
FOCUS through its support and partnership with the Aga Khan Agency for Habitat (AKAH), has established early warning systems in order to reduce vulnerability and increase resilience. Village based weather monitoring posts have been installed so that timely action can be taken to ultimately protect lives. Over the past two years, 52 weather monitoring posts have been fitted in the most at-risk areas across Gilgit-Baltistan and Chitral.
As part of FOCUS’ strategy to build disaster resilience capacity in communities, the individuals in charge of the weather monitoring posts are trained as community emergency response team (CERT) members. Training includes light search and rescue training, so that members can act as first responders, providing a life-saving role in the initial 72 hours after an incident.
In March this year, two strong weather systems triggered heavy snowfalls across Shimshal valley. Mansoor Ali, the person in charge of the weather monitoring post and also a CERT member, shared the weather data with AKAH early warning centres located in Gilgit and Islamabad for analysis. Once the analysis was conducted, weather alerts were sent back to Ali who then helped evacuate the families who were at greatest risk. On March 24, 2017, as predicted, an avalanche struck Shimshal damaging irrigation channels and land. Fortunately, the evacuated families were not harmed.
Prior to every avalanche season, avalanche preparedness seminars are organised, where the local community learn about avalanches, how they are initiated and how to prepare for them.