Climate Change: fast melting glaciers threatens existence of villages in Chitral

GUL Hammad Farouqi & Iftikhar Khan

CHITRAL: The continuous landslides, depleting groundwater level, massive floods and fast shrinking glaciers due to rising climate change is forcing displacement of locals in Chitral.

Residents of Bareep area were displaced due to floods in 2005 and took shelter in Kotanlusht area. They were hit by another flood in Kotanlusht after which they resettled in Boni.

Militancy that caused end of tourism in Chitral was followed by frequent floods that damaged infrastructure beyond repair in Chitral, where People have lost their near and dears, houses, businesses and now living a miserable life

Vulnerability of the district due to climate change can be judged from recent migration of 200 farmers from Morilusht to Chitral due to water shortage in their area.

Sabira Bibi, 30, had lost an embroidery center in Bareep area that was washed away in flood.

She shifted to Kotanlusht area she lost all her cattle when the villages she took shelter was destroyed by a flood too.

“We still feel threatened when I look at the snow on peaks of mountains that is melting faster then before and can spark a massive flood anytime,” she said while talking to TNN.

Experts say the glaciers have started melting faster due to increasing global warming that threatened local population and might lead to human catastrophe.

Increase in temperature and rains, seasonal variation that include late winter and early summer and incessant deforestations are some of the reasons behinds massive floods, says Dr Muhammad Akmal, a climate change expert at Agriculture University Peshawar.

Among the 24 valleys of Chiltral, 19 have around 543 glaciers that are now melting but a hanging sword of Damocles over heads of local population.

Bareep Gol is said to be the most vulnerable as it receive floods every year due to melting, said Environmentalist Hamid Ahmad Mir, adding that it received a massive flood in 2015.

Around 26 families had migrated to Kotanlusht from Bareep in 2005 when flood swept through the area, forcing them resettle in different areas of the district.

Officials at Communication and Works Department say over 32 people have so far died due to floods in Bareep since 2013.

Executive Engineer Maqbool Azam told TNN that Chitral has suffered massive losses since last five years. “Floods washed away 500 houses, 27 roads, 28 schools, 50 bridges, 50 irrigation channels, 80 canals and 450 orchards apart from hundreds of acres of irrigations lands,” he said.

Mir said that people usually remained unprepared physically and mentally to face Glacial Lake Outburst Floods that inflict heavy losses on them.

He revealed that there were 187 glaciers that have assumed shape of glacial lake while 20 others have been declared extremely threatening that can spark a massive flood in plain areas.

He says it was due to massive melting of glaciers that damaged infrastructure and killed 35 people in 2015. That flood washed away bridges, schools, houses, roads, grid stations and displaced thousands of people.

The reconstruction of damaged infrastructure will cost the provincial government Rs8 billion, according to a report prepared by Provincial Disaster Management Authority.

Mir said that a steep rise in losses to infrastructure and human has been witnessed since last several years. Women, children and old people are the worst victims. Children of Sabira could not go to schools for months when the first flood came while they quit education after a nearby schools was washed away in the second flood.

“My elder son work as labourer while younger graze his cattle,” she said. Located in Hindukash region, glaciers in Chitral are said to be 5000 years old while history of floods are as old as these glaciers themselves.

Experts say that the district has been witnessing massive floods since the last decade of the 20th century as 40 to 60 meters glaciers melts every year.

“No one can rule out water shortage and massive floods if glaciers continue to melt as this speed,” said Mir.

Frequent migration have taken a heavy toll on locals financially, socially and psychologically. “We are fed with frequent migration that has forced us to live a miserable life with no home and businesses of our own,” said Sher Akbar, another resident of Kotanlusht who suffered twice due to floods.

He urged the government to take precautionary measures and protect its people from floods and water shortage.

“Seasonal variations, rising temperature and changing pattern of rains have badly affected Chitral,” commented Dr Akmal.

The snowfall that we would receive in November and December is being received in January and February, said Dr Akmal.

“Sudden rise in temperature in March and April stop it from become glaciers,” he said.

Snow-peaked mountains is no more attract us rather we fear them that can kill us anytime.