GlacierHub News Report 04-10-18

Pilot News Report

 

 

We are proud to present our first ever GlacierHub News Report. The GlacierHub News Report is a bi-monthly video news report that features some of our website’s top stories. We know our readers are busy, so we created the GlacierHub News Report to catch you up on the latest glacier news.

This week’s news report features:

Peruvian Farmer Explains Lawsuit Against Energy Firm

By: Brian Poe Llamanzares

Peruvian Farmer Saul Lliuya prepares for the next step in his legal battle against German energy firm RWE. He knows the odds are stacked against him, but with the help of Germanwatch and research from Instituto Nacional de Investigacion en Glaciares y Ecosistemas de Montaña, he hopes to win this case.

Read more here.

Artist Diane Burko Shows Us Our World, and It’s Vanishing

By: Jade Payne

We interviewed Diane Burko about her newest exhibition, Vast, and Vanishing, on display at the Rowan University Art Gallery, as well as her upcoming project that takes her in a new direction exploring coral reefs.

Read more here.

Inequality, Climate Change, and Vulnerability in Peru

By: Angela Quevedo

In March, we published an article regarding the vulnerability of small-scale farmers in Ancash, Peru. A recent study, suggests that climate change is just one of several factors placing pressure on farmers; rather, a collection of socio-political and economic factors are the main cause of vulnerability.

Read more here.

Glacial Geoengineering: The Key to Slowing Sea Level Rise?

By: Andrew Angle

Could building underwater walls in front of glaciers slow down melting and possibly avert devastating sea level rise? A postdoctoral researcher at Princeton thinks it might, proposing that a wall’s construction on a glacier grounding line could limit warm water from melting the ice from below. The idea is still in its very early stages and has many engineering and feasibility questions that still need to be addressed.

Read more here.

Video Credits:
Presenter: Brian Poe Llamanzares
Video Editor: Brian Poe Llamanzares
Writer: Brian Poe Llamanzares
News Intro: YouTube
Music: iMovie

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Photo Friday: The First Annual ‘Mountain Prize’ Award

The International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) will confer its first-ever Mountain Prize award in 2018! Open to both individuals and organizations, the prize seeks to recognize those who have “demonstrated outstanding efforts enabling sustainable and resilient mountain development in the HKH (Hindu Kush Himalaya) region to benefit the environment as well as the communities – particularly the poor, the youth, and the women.”

Individuals or organizations that enter the competition stand a chance to win $5,000.

The nomination process ends this month on 30 April, and the winner will be announced on 5 June 2018, which just so happens to be World Environment Day.

For more information on how to qualify, check out the link to the new annual ICIMOD competition here.

This Photo Friday, take a peek at photos from some of ICIMOD’s past award competitions.

ICIMOD’s Single Photo Contest Winners

 

Hard Life by Susheel Shrestha
First Place was awarded to “Hard Life” by Susheel Shrestha, which portrays local female porters carrying wooden planks to build a new hotel at Kyanjing Gompa in Rasuwa district (Source: ICIMOD).

 

Women and their livelihood to combat climate change
Second Place was awarded to “Women and their livelihood to combat climate change” by Upakar Bhandari, which showcases Hukam village, a mountain village of Rukum where women grow mountain crops to feed their families (Source: ICIMOD).

 

Another Tree Sacrificed by Didar Ali
Third Place was awarded to “Another Tree Sacrificed” by Didar Ali, which depicts the hardships of the Wakhi/Pamirians living in Gojal valley, Pakistan. Having no alternatives, they rely on wood for cooking and heating (Source: ICIMOD).

 

Resilient Hindu Kush Photo Story Contest

 

From Peaks to Plains - Troubled Waters along the Gandaki River
The winner of this prize was “From Peaks to Plains – Troubled Waters along the Gandaki River” by Alice Chautard, which follows the Kali Gandaki river as it originates from Himalayan glaciers in the desert-dry region of Upper Mustang, at the border with Tibet (Source: ICIMOD).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Curious Case of New Zealand’s Shrinking Glaciers

The Point of No Return

New Zealand’s glaciers showed signs of an unusually severe summer in 2018. Every year, scientists from New Zealand’s National Institute for Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA) fly over the Southern Alps of New Zealand to record the condition of the country’s glaciers. This year, they noticed that no snow remained from the previous winter.

Tasman Glacier, New Zealand (Source: Paul Stewart)
Tasman Glacier, New Zealand (Source: Paul Stewart).

New Zealand has 3,200 glaciers, and scientists have been observing these glaciers since the late 1970s. Out of 3,200 glaciers, 50 were selected by glaciologist Trevor Chinn to serve as a sample data set representing all of New Zealand’s alps. Of these 50 glaciers, 30 were unable to retain snow from the previous winter.

The “snow line” is the elevation at which the snow from the previous winter sits above exposed ice, but in 2018 the snow kept melting. In other words, 30 of the mountains were not tall enough to reach the potential “snow line.” Unfortunately, this means that these mountains lost snow which could have potentially become the ice necessary for nourishing these glaciers.

Over one-third of all the snow and ice in the Southern Alps melted in recent decades, with warmer temperatures making it difficult for the mountains to retain snow through the summer. In fact, the total volume of ice has decreased by 34 percent since the late 1970s. The Southern Alps of New Zealand have continuously receded at an uneven pace. Some years the glaciers have receded quicker than other years. However, research indicates that the rate at which glaciers are shrinking has accelerated over the past 15 years.

What Made This Summer so Severe?

The same climate scientists from NIWA and others from Victoria University of Wellington argue that the increase in temperature is being caused by a marine heat wave. This is the first time scientists have made a connection between marine heat waves and glacial retreat. A marine heat wave is characterized by extreme sea surface temperatures (SSTs) that last for several months. However, unlike the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO), which also has extreme SSTs, marine heat waves are not limited to the tropical eastern Pacific Ocean. In fact, marine heat waves have occurred in different locations around the world. It turns out marine heat waves have been around for quite some time, but it is only recently that they have caught the attention of the scientific community.

Marine Heat Wave Map (Source: Nature Communication)
Marine heat wave map (Source: Nature Communication).

According to a recent study, one of the earliest significant marine heat waves on record took place in 2003 around the northwestern part of the Mediterranean Sea. The warm pool reached anywhere between three to five degrees Celsius above the 1982 to 2016 reference period. Since then, there have been a total of seven other significant marine heat waves based on the metrics of the study.

What is truly troubling about the frequency of these heat waves is that three out of the eight significant heat waves happened in 2016 alone. That’s not including the other smaller marine heat waves similar to the one which directly affected the glaciers in New Zealand. There seems to be an increasing trend in marine heat waves around the world.

According to another study, the warming and the frequency could be due to anthropogenic forcing. Eric Oliver of the Department of Oceanography at Dalhousie University claims that, according to his findings, heat waves in the region are made 53 percent more likely due to human-induced climate change.

The Dangers of Marine Heat Waves

The most significant marine heat wave to date was nicknamed “the blob.” This marine heatwave stretched all the way from Alaska to Panama and got its name from the way its massive heat signature registered on the map. Between 2013 and 2015 this massive heat wave cost the lives of millions of sea stars, over one hundred thousand seabirds, and thousands of sea lions. In June 2015, over a dozen whales died and washed ashore. Similarly, in a single month, 79 sea otters reportedly died. At one point the heat wave even caused a toxic bloom of algae so large that it shut down California’s crab industry.

The video above explains what caused large numbers of sea otters to die during the marine heat wave (Source: National Geographic).

Off the southeast coast of Australia, another heat wave was recorded shortly after “the blob.” According to another study, between 2015 and 2016, Australia had its longest and most intense heat wave ever recorded. It lasted between 251 days, with heat reaching up to 2.9 degrees Celsius higher than normal. This marine heat wave killed off over one-fifth of the coral in the Great Barrier Reef. The same marine heat wave resulted in the worst mangrove die-off in the world. Over 7,000 hectares of mangroves died during that marine heat wave.

Coral Bleaching in the Great Barrier Reef (Source: @robertscribbler/Twitter).

Marine heat waves also have a significant economic impact. A marine heat wave between 2010 and 2013 off the western coast of Australia destroyed 90 percent of the kelp forests in the Great Southern Reef, affecting major fisheries including rock lobsters and abalone fisheries. More recently, the 2016 marine heat wave in the region caused an outbreak of an oyster disease, closing local hatcheries all over the region.

How are Marine Heat Waves Formed?

The term marine heat wave was only coined fairly recently in 2011. Scientists are starting to study the causes of marine heat waves and the extent of their impact on the environment. Some scientists argue that certain marine heat waves are affected by El Niño. For example, “The blob” has been closely associated with the weak 2014-2015 El Niño event. According to studies conducted by researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the beginning of the marine heat wave may have started toward the end of 2013 and start of 2014. In 2014, high pressure over the Pacific Ocean led to weaker winds. The winds were unable to bring cooler air from the north which contributed to a slight rise in temperatures in the region. Then, around the middle of 2014, an El Niño event occurred and further intensified the heat wave allowing the warmer temperatures to expand all along the Pacific coast.

On the other hand, Oliver’s research argues that the convergence of heat is somehow linked to the anomalous southward flow of the East Australian Current (EAC) and enhanced kinetic energy which coincided with the 2015 to 2016 marine heat wave off the coast of Australia. The EAC brings warm water down the East coast of Australia into the Tasman Sea.

According to Oliver’s study, a temperature budget, in which “horizontal advection and sea-air heat flux” were also considered, indicated that southward advection was indeed the main cause of the anomalous temperatures. The study goes on the point out that the southward advection was consistent with a stronger southward extension of the EAC. Meanwhile, NIWA forecaster Ben Noll argues that one of the factors that researchers may wish to consider would be the atmospheric pressure. Higher atmospheric pressure in the region keeps the weather conditions calm above the water and fail to produce the winds necessary to churn up cold water from deep in the ocean. This therefore allows warm pools to build up over time.

Researchers and scientists are still trying to understand the causes behind marine heat waves around the world. However, it remains clear that the chances of marine heat waves occurring will continue to increase in the near future, affecting not just marine life but even glaciers.

 

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Roundup: Collapsing Ice Shelves, Oil Spills, and New Zealand

The Implications of Collapsing Antarctic Ice Shelves

From Cryosphere Discuss: “Ice shelf break-up and disintegration events over the past several decades have led to speed-up, thinning, and retreat of upstream tributary glaciers and increases to rates of global sea-level rise. The southward progression of these episodes indicates a climatic cause, and in turn, suggests that the larger Larsen C and George VI ice shelves may undergo similar collapse in future. However, the extent to which removal of Larsen C and George VI ice shelves will affect upstream tributary 5 glaciers and add to global sea levels is unknown.”

Read more about the collapse of Larsen C and George VI ice shelves here.

George VI Ice Shelf from Alexander Island (Source: AntarcticGlaciers.org)
George VI Ice Shelf from Alexander Island (Source: AntarcticGlaciers.org).

Effects of future Oil Spills in the Arctic

From Science of the Total Environment Journal: “New economic developments in the Arctic, such as shipping and oil exploitation, bring along unprecedented risks of marine oil spills. Microorganisms have played a central role in degrading and reducing the impact of the spilled oil during past oil disasters. However, in the Arctic, and in particular in its pristine areas, the self-cleaning capacity and biodegradation potential of the natural microbial communities have yet to be uncovered.”

Learn more about marine oil spills in the Arctic here.

Biodegradation of oil spills in arctic specific environments (Image Source: Science of the Total Environment Journal)
Biodegradation of oil spills in arctic specific environments (Source: Science of the Total Environment Journal).

New Zealand’s Glaciers Are In Trouble

From Radio New Zealand: “Climate scientists and glaciologists from NIWA and Victoria University of Wellington have just completed their annual end of summer snowline flight over nearly 50 glaciers in the Southern Alps. They report that the summer’s marine heatwave has left the ice giants in ‘sad shape.’”

Find out more about how the New Zealand glaciers are in danger after a marine heatwave here.

New Zealand Southern Alps (Source: Radio New Zealand)
New Zealand Southern Alps (Source: Radio New Zealand).
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Hiking Through Glacier National Park for a Cause

Walking the Talk

Shifali Gupta hiking along Trail Crest going to Mt. Whitney on July 4th, 2017 (Source: Shifali Gupta).

The effects of climate change may be overwhelming, but Shifali Gupta is showing us how to take a step in the right direction.

Shifali recently signed up for Climate Hike Glacier, a charitable hiking challenge in which she will hike up to 50 miles in four days to raise a minimum of $3,000 in donations for a cause of her choosing. The hike will take her through Glacier National Park in Montana, one of America’s favorite national parks.

The four-day challenge begins with a hike up to St. Mary Falls and Virginia Falls. On the second day, Shifali and her team will hike from the west side of the Continental Divide to the east side to Many Glacier Valley. On the third day, her team will explore Grinnell Glacier, an iconic receding glacier within the park, a spot for Shifali and her team to witness first hand the effects of climate change.

Climate Hike Glacier aims to raise awareness about climate change impacts as an event sponsored by Climate Ride, a nonprofit organization dedicated to inspiring environmental action through bike rides, and more recently hikes, to raise funds for important causes.

And what better way to raise awareness about climate change than to promote a hike through a national park that is quickly losing its namesake glaciers to global temperature rise? On the final day of the hike, Shifali will be given the option of hiking to a beautiful alpine lake or climbing up to a vantage point with a panoramic view of the park’s changing landscape.

The loss of glacial formations in Glacier National Park have been worrisome: The park went from about 150 glaciers in the 1800s to only 26 glaciers today. According to a U.S. Geological Survey study, some of the remaining glaciers have lost 83 percent of their mass, while the average loss across all glaciers has been 39 percent.

Grinnell Glacier (Source: Lisa Soverino).

The Inspiration Behind the Hike

This is Shifali’s first Climate Hike. She grew up in India and came to the United States for graduate school, earning her master’s degree in Climate and Society at Columbia University. The program helps professionals and academics understand and cope with the impacts of climate change on society and the environment.

GivePower Project 2016 (Source: Shifali Gupta).

For Shifali, applying the knowledge she gained in graduate school meant working at SolarCity, where she had the opportunity to give back to a community in Nepal.

“I was given a chance to be part of a GivePower team to install a solar battery system in a village that is so far removed that you can only get there by hiking about 5 miles from the nearest road,” Shifali told GlacierHub. “The idea was to use these clean energy sources to power their grain mill to provide a more secure source of food, as opposed to when villagers would have to travel roughly 10 miles in rain or shine.”

Shifali explained that she was inspired to participate in Climate Ride by her teammates at GivePower, a nonprofit focused on giving clean energy to otherwise neglected communities in developing countries around the world. Having participated previously, her colleagues were able to raise roughly $5,000 per-person in past Climate Ride events. Shifali said she finally decided on her birthday last November to sign up herself to raise money for GivePower.

Climate Ride, which started in 2008, has already inspired over 1,986 participants like Shifali to raise more than $3.5 million in donations for causes all over the world.

Shifali with her Tesla/SolarCity hiking group (Source: Shifali Gupta).

Shifali decided to join the hike instead of the traditional ride because she was more confident in her hiking skills than her biking skills. She says that the hike also allows her to check “going to Glacier National Park” off of her bucket list.

Simultaneously, she gets to support a cause she believes in. When speaking to GlacierHub, she said it was a “no-brainer” for her to select GivePower as her partner nonprofit.

GivePower currently has projects in Haiti, Kenya, Nepal, Nicaragua, and Congo. Solar installations power water pumps to improve access to water, and GivePower installs microgrids in local communities to power mills or refrigerators. They also use solar panels to power schools, medical centers, and increase connectivity through mobile network access.

Shifali is looking forward to the hike and says that it couldn’t have come at a better time.

She plans to pursue further studies and hopefully join more rides and hikes in the near future. She also hopes that more people will join the hike. As of writing this article, Shifali is $2,258 away from her goal. To support Shifali’s cause click here.

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Peruvian Farmer Explains His Lawsuit Against Energy Firm

This photo of Saul Lliuya was taken in Peru. Saul is standing in front of a hazard map of Huaraz (Source: Noah Walker-Crawford).

David and Goliath

In a phone interview earlier this week with GlacierHub, Saul Lliuya, a mountain guide and farmer from Huaraz in northwestern Peru, explains how he is preparing for the next step in his legal battle with multinational German energy corporation RWE.

Just last Nov. 30, a court in the northwestern German city of Hamm ruled that it will hear Lliuya’s climate lawsuit. The suit was previously dismissed in 2016 by the Essen Regional Court in Germany where the RWE headquarters is located.

Lliuya decided to sue RWE for roughly $20,000 in disaster preparedness funds for the Peruvian city of Huaraz in 2015. Moreover, Lliuya is demanding another $8,000 for the personal expenses he had to shoulder in preparing for the worst.

According to Lliuya, “RWE presented additional documents because they didn’t want to accept the judge’s decision. However, in the end, they [the German court] decided the case will move along and go into the evidentiary phase.”

Lliuya added that the Peruvian research organization Instituto Nacional de Investigacion en Glaciares y Ecosistemas de Montaña (INAIGEM) is studying glacial retreat in the region. They have agreed to provide him with information that he can use in his case against RWE.

When asked how he felt about people thinking of him as a hero, he said he felt he was just doing his job. “I don’t feel like a hero… Glacier retreat since the 1940’s has killed a lot of people… just this feeling of climate justice,” he said. 

Lliuya understands that the odds are stacked against him, but he is still hopeful that he will win against RWE. He is happy to have received help from the NGO Germanwatch. Germanwatch focuses on advocating for global equality and preserving the livelihoods of the marginalized. Lliuya says if other people would like help, their team is in need of funding for future legal assistance.

When asked why he selected RWE as a target for his suit, Lliuya pointed to RWE’s coal burning. “It’s one of the largest contaminators in Europe,” he said. He argues that the German company should be held responsible for the disasters caused by the rapidly melting glaciers in the Andes, disasters which have endangered his livelihood and people.

Cordillera Blanca, Peru (Source:Google Maps).

Glacial retreat has resulted in dangerously high water levels in the glacial lakes above Huaraz, for example. Unfortunately, this places Huaraz and other cities along the river at greater risk of Glacial Lake Outburst Floods (GLOFs). Lliuya argues that big energy players like RWE should be held accountable and contribute in preparing for the problems faced by the local population due to climate change.

The Risk to Peruvian Glaciers

Peru’s glaciers have lost up to 90 percent of their mass. The meltwater could potentially end up in glacial lakes like Palcacocha. Palcacocha is located in the Ancash region in the Cordillera Blanca within the Peruvian province of Huaraz. The lake drains into Quebrada Cojup which drains into Quilcay River. The Quilcay River flows through the city of Huaraz and empties into the Santa River.

Since 1970, Palcacocha has grown 34 times bigger. The lake itself contains 17 million cubic meters of water, which is the equivalent of 6,800 Olympic swimming pools. Unlike like some other lakes in Peru, Palcacocha has no early warning system. In fact, Johnny Salazar, a Huaraz civil defense official said in an interview with Reuters that he initially requested $1 million from regional authorities to fund the project. Unfortunately, the plan fell through because the regional authorities didn’t provide any money to help fund the early warning system.

Saul Lliuya (left) and Noah Walker-Crawford (Source: Noah Walker-Crawford)

German anthropologist Noah Walker-Crawford explained to GlacierHub that GLOFs are a very real threat. “Increasing glacial retreat is causing existing glacial lakes to grow in volume and new lakes to form. This is particularly significant for downstream cities with large populations living in areas that would be affected by potential GLOFs,” he said. “In Huaraz, around 50,000 people live in the hazard zone threatened by Lake Palcacocha. Saúl is one of them.”

Anthony Oliver-Smith, professor emeritus of anthropology at the University of Florida, agreed, telling GlacierHub that a GLOF in the region could be disastrous, especially for a city like Huaraz. “If in fact, a GLOF took place…if a village is in the way, we’re talking total annihilation… complete obliteration.”

In northwestern Peru, according to some studies, if a large scale avalanche were to take place and fall into Palcacocha it could result in a 100-foot wave within the lake. That wave could potentially create a flood made of meltwater, trees, mud, and rocks which would rush down the valley. That could mean death for the inhabitants of Huaraz living in flood risk zones who currently lack an early warning system to prompt an evacuation.

However, according to Oliver-Smith, draining the lakes regularly is one way of making sure that GLOFs don’t happen. According to him, the drained water is used for things like irrigation. For now, the overflowing lakes are a valuable source of freshwater. However, he added that the water may eventually run out.

“The problem in the long term with glacial melt is that once that water is gone it’s gone,” he said. 

Walker-Crawford concurred, saying, “For rural farmers such as Saúl, this is an existential threat. With increasingly unstable rain patterns and decreasing water supplies, they will have no reliable source of irrigation for their crops. This is a threat to their livelihood.”

Palcacocha Lake (Source: Daniel Byers YouTube).

 

Setting Legal Precedent with a Climate Suit

With so much at stake for mountain populations and the world’s glaciers, why can’t a company like RWE contribute $20,000 to mitigate climate change-induced losses? After all, the company earned 45.8 billion euros in 2015 by generating 216.1 terawatts of energy for 23.4 million customers.

According to Oliver-Smith, the reason RWE won’t bend is that any negotiation would set a precedent for future claims. “That’s pocket change for RWE,” Oliver-Smith said. “They could do that in a heartbeat and never even notice it, but if they do that they are accepting responsibility… so that’s not going to happen.”

 

Who Will Pay for the Damages Brought About by Climate Change?

Huaraz is just one community facing climate change-related problems. According to some reports, developing nations around the world will need between $140 and 300 billion annually by 2030 for disaster relief funds and management. Right now, these expenses are being shouldered by local taxpayers, national governments, NGOs, and foreign aid. Some civil society stakeholders like Germanwatch, and Lliuya, argue that multinational energy companies who have contributed to climate change should help shoulder the financial burden.

Lliuya says that watching the glaciers melt made him feel helpless. That’s why he filed the case against RWE. He wants everyone to know that addressing climate change will not be easy. However, he believes that we can make a difference if stakeholders around the world can come together to address the problem.

“Every kind of a change comes through a fight or perseverance,” he said. “If we don’t do anything, we know what the consequences will be. So I hope that cases like what we’re doing can be done in other places as well so that we can contribute to reduce the temperature.”







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Photo Friday: Mer de Glace, a “Sea of Ice”

The French Alps lie just about an hour and thirty minutes away from the heart of Geneva. I thought of visiting Chamonix, home of the famous Mont Blanc, after a conference at the United Nations. Though, what I didn’t know was that I could visit the equally majestic Mer de Glace, or “Sea of Ice” in English, a valley glacier on the northern slopes of the Mont Blanc Massif.

I was lucky enough to visit Mer de Glace in the winter outside of peak season. That meant the cable car heading up the slopes actually had seats available. It also meant that I could take breathtaking photos of this winter wonderland without being disturbed. I was in such awe of Mer de Glace that I completely forgot to put my gloves on! I was too focused on capturing the moment. As my hands fell numb, I ran inside the gift shop and waited for the cable car to return. On the way down, I couldn’t help but wonder how long such a magnificent glacier would last. I had suddenly remembered the tour guide explaining earlier that the glacier has been melting and that we were lucky to have seen so much snow.

Upon researching, I came to realize that the glacier was in fact disappearing. The ice has melted so quickly over the past 30 years that it now takes around 370 steps to get down to the ice. In 1988 it took only three steps. Between 2014 and 2015 alone Mer de Glace has lost 3.61 meters of ice. To make matters worse, reports have indicated 40 percent less snowfall over the past 50 years in the region. All over the world glaciers are melting as a result of changing climate. Tourists like myself are left wondering how many more generations will be able to witness the majesty of the French Alps. Will my generation be the last?

This Photo Friday, join me on an eye-opening journey through the snowy mountainside of Mont Blanc.

The quiet town of Chamonix, France (Source: Brian Poe Llamanzares).

 

At the heart of the town of Chamonix, you’ll find a statue of Michel Paccard. Paccard was a doctor and mountain climber. This monument is dedicated to his ascent of Mont Blanc alongside Jaque Balmat in 1786 (Source: Brian Poe Llamanzares).

 

The author standing on the bridge to the cable car leading up to Mer de Glace (Source: Brian Poe Llamanzares).

 

Mer de Glace (Source: Brian Poe Llamanzares).

 

The mountain landscape through which Mer de Glace flows (Source: Brian Poe Llamanzares).

Click here to find out more about the tour I booked in Chamonix.

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ICIMOD Steps Up to Save Lives in Pakistan

Imagine waking up at 4 a.m. to the wails of a siren. For Sherqilla, a small village in Pakistan, that siren was the difference between life and death. The siren is part of an early warning system that woke up all the villagers in time for them to get to higher ground and avoid the floods that ensued in 2017. Just one year earlier a similar flood swept away six households, livestock, 250 acres of cropland, and roughly 600 acres of fruit and trees.

The early warning system in Sherqilla was developed by the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development or ICIMOD. ICIMOD was recently recognized by the Gilgit-Baltistan government in Pakistan for helping to increase the resiliency of vulnerable mountain village communities through their Indus Basin Initiative.

Trekkers in the Hindu Kush Over North Barum glacier, from Terichmir base camp 3800 m, Chitral, Pakistan (Source: Facebook).

Gilgit-Baltistan is home to the Hindu Kush, Himalayas, and Karakoram mountain ranges. The population of the region is roughly 1.9 million people, around 80,000 of whom are vulnerable to “inland tsunamis.”

Normally one would think of a tsunami and imagine waves crashing down on an unsuspecting coastal community. In the case of Pakistan, the tsunamis come from within. These inland tsunamis are known as glacial lake outburst floods or GLOFs. GLOFs occur when the water of a glacial lake breaks through its natural dam and floods the nearby areas. Based on a 30-year average from 1981 to 2010, climate change has warmed the mountainous regions of Pakistan by an estimated 1.2 degrees Celsius, leading to an increase in GLOFs and natural disasters. The impacts on the local community is both swift and unforgiving.

The Chitral Valley is another prime example of a remote mountain village impacted by climate change. Three major floods have occurred in less than six years, claiming the lives of 50 people and leaving hundreds of thousands stranded, according to the Washington Post.

Mohiuddin who lost his home and 4-year-old daughter in a flash flood in Reshun Gol village, Chitral, Pakistan (Source: ICIMOD).

 

The Indus Basin Initiative

In light of the constant threat of GLOFs, ICIMOD made the Gilgit-Baltistan Disaster Management Authority more pro-active in the face of such natural disasters. Aside from improving the local irrigation systems and agricultural conditions of the communities, ICIMOD established hazard management systems in Gulmit, Passu, Hussaini, and Gulkin. These systems are known as community-based glacier monitoring and early warning systems or CBFEWS.

According to ICIMOD, CBFEWS consists of tools and plans used to detect and respond to flood emergencies. The monitoring priorities of the system depend on the community. In Gulmit, for example, locals monitor the debris flow. However, as previously mentioned, in Sherqilla, the system monitors flash floods. In Passu, the locals look out for GLOFs. This is all part of the ICIMOD’s Indus Basin Initiative.

Shandur Lake (Source: The News International).

Back in September, following floods in August, ICIMOD implemented a five-day training program to improve the ability of participants to install and use the community-based flood risk management system. The training consisted of learning both the technical and conceptual knowledge behind the early warning device designed by ICIMOD. The 17 participants in the training came from local governments, NGOs and other partners. They hailed from Nepal, India, and Pakistan. According to the ICIMOD, in order to be effective, the CBFEWS should involve a number of elements: “risk knowledge and scoping, community-based monitoring and early warning, dissemination, and communication and response capability and resilience.”

Dasuopu Glacier, Mt. Xixiabangma, Central Himalayas (Source: ICIMOD

Moving forward

In the hopes of further increasing resilience in the region, ICIMOD recently aided in facilitating an international conference. ICIMOD, the Government of Nepal, and the European Union worked together to make the conference “Resilient Hindu Kush: Developing Solutions Toward a Sustainable Future for Asia” a reality.

At the event, the director general of ICIMOD, David Molden, gave words of thanks and encouragement. In his speech, he recognized the importance of future collaboration saying, “Building resilience also calls us to improve participation of all groups, particularly communities, women and youth in creating a vision and action plan for a more prosperous future.”

See ICIMOD Director General David Molden’s Full Speech here.

Of course, GLOFs are not the only natural disasters that plague the Gilgit-Baltistan region. Avalanches, monsoon rains, and other natural disasters make the socio-economic conditions even tougher on the people of the remote mountain villages. ICIMOD further recognizes that Gilgit-Baltistan isn’t the only country under threat from impending GLOFs. As such, it has begun discussions on the possibility of replicating the early warning system in other areas. ICIMOD hopes that these expansion efforts will help to ensure the safety of villagers living throughout the region.

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