In recent weeks, the coronavirus pandemic has sparked mass protests around the US However, the US is not the only country dealing with unrest as a result of the public health crisis. India and Lebanon have seen demonstrations based on concerns over lockdown restrictions or lack of government aid. Recently, the Astore District in northern Pakistan, a region home to a vast number of glaciers, has experienced student led protests. The Pamir Times, a local news station recently published an article l with an accompanying video of the protests.
The student-led protests took place in Gilgit-Baltistan, located in the Karakorams of northern Pakistan. As in other coronavirus demonstrations around the world, the protestors were concerned with the government response to the pandemic. The students accused the Astore administration of mismanaging the coronavirus situation. They detailed how sick patients were continuing to live with quarantined people. Additionally, they said the facilities available for coronavirus patients were inadequate. Concern over treatment of sick patients and the safety of those in quarantine is growing in this area, as Astore has become a hotspot.
The video documenting the protests shows students marching through a marketplace, animatedly chanting. Some protestors are seen stopping to be interviewed on camera. The mountains provide a strikingly picturesque backdrop to the unrest. The Karakorams in Pakistan hold some of the world’s largest and longest mid-latitude glaciers. About 37 percent of the region is glacierized. These glaciers supply meltwater to locals for irrigation and domestic consumption, playing a particularly important role in the summer, after the snowmelt in spring has abated.
Unfortunately, mountain environments are particularly vulnerable to climate change and the Karakoram has not been immune. Glaciers in Pakistan are retreating, which poses multiple challenges for communities in the Astore District. Changing glacial landscapes reduce freshwater availability, affect tourism and hydroelectricity production, and in some cases even lead to cross-border conflict.
The recent coronavirus protests indicate the multiple challenges in Gilgit-Baltistan. Though the pandemic has created new short-term threats, climate change remains as an ongoing obstacle to sustainable development in this region. GlacierHub will continue to cover the ongoing pandemic and its effects on those living in glacierized regions.