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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Roundup: Ancient Tunic, Climate Resiliency and Sustainable Glacier Tourism

Reconstructing the Tunic from Lendbreen in Norway

From the Archaelogical Textiles Review: “A woven wool tunic with damaged sleeves and repairs to the body dating from AD 230 to AD 390 was discovered on the Lendbreen glacier in Oppland County, Norway, in 2011. The Norwegian Mountain Centre in Lom (Norsk Fjellsenter) and the Museum of Cultural History at the University of Oslo each commissioned a reconstruction of the tunic for exhibition and research into prehistoric textile production. The original was woven in 2/2 diamond twill with differently colored yarns producing a deliberate and even mottled effect.”

Learn more about glacier archaeology and its techniques here.

Ancient Tunic in Lendbreen glacier
Ancient Tunic in Lendbreen glacier (Source: Marianne Vedeler).

Collaboration Strengthens Climate Resiliency

From the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD): “As climate change impacts are increasing the likelihood of natural disasters, such as floods and landslides, having a thorough disaster risk management plan is become more important for communities throughout the Hindu Kush Himalaya (HKH). The government of Gilgit Baltistan in Pakistan has recognized the efforts of the Indus Basin Initiative of the ICIMOD and consortium partners to establish more resilient mountain villages through partnership with the Gilgit Baltistan Disaster Management Authority (GB-DMA). Their plan involves several projects in glacier-rich northern Pakistan, including rehabilitation of a glacier-fed irrigation system, and a community based glacier monitoring/GLOF early warning system.”

Find out more about the Gilgit Baltistan Disaster Risk Management Plan here.

Glaciers from the mountainous region of the Hindu Kush–Karakoram–Himalaya, HKH
Glaciers from the mountainous region of the Hindu Kush–Karakoram–Himalaya, HKH (Source: INSPIRE/Blogger).

 

Stakeholder Participation in Developing Sustainability Indicators

From the Journal of Rural and Community Development: “Glacier tourism is of importance worldwide. Many European northern periphery (NP) communities are likely to experience increased and complex environmental, social and economic impacts of tourism in the near future. Therefore, approaches that see tourism as included in complex socio-ecological systems are critical for identifying and assessing sustainability indicators in the NP specifically are crucial. This study from Vatnajökull National Park, Iceland argues for the value of incorporating the perceptions of local communities as it develops and assesses systemic sustainability indicators for glacial tourism.”

Further explore the concept of sustainable glacier tourism in Iceland here.

Vatnajökull National Park
Vatnajökull National Park (Source: Daniel Kordan/Instagram).
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2017 Equator Prize Awarded to Pakistan NGO

This year, the 2017 Equator Prize recognizing local conservation and sustainability initiatives was awarded to the Baltistan Wildlife Conservation and Development Organization (BWCDO), marking the first time an organization from Pakistan has earned this biennial award. The Equator Prize, launched by the United Nation’s Equator Initiative in 2002, showcases community efforts to relieve poverty through conservation and the sustainable use of biodiversity. BWCDO, a Pakistan NGO located in the Baltistan region of northern Pakistan, aims to protect snow leopards (and other wildlife) in ways that support local development by providing economic incentives to farmers, including insurance schemes and compensation, to combat human-snow leopard conflicts.

Shafqat Hussain founded Project Snow Leopard in 1999 to conserve the snow leopard and wildlife population in the region by including local communities. Since 2006, Project Snow Leopard has been incorporated into BWCDO, with Hussain continuing to serve as an advisor to the organization, and currently operates in 17 villages in northern Pakistan. Additionally, BWCDO recently launched an education program in Pakistan to raise awareness and encourage local youth, including girls, to participate in conservation and development initiatives. One example of the NGO’s ongoing efforts is International Snow Leopard Day in Gilgit-Baltistan, which began in November 2015.

Celebration of Earth Day in Baltistan on April 22, 2017 (Source: BWCDO/Facebook).

BWCDO finances its operations by charging farmers annually a premium per head of livestock. However, most of the financing comes from selling snow leopard trekking expeditions through commercial tour operators. BWCDO and a village management committee promote these ecotourism activities in order to supplement farmers’ income, creating economic incentives for farmers not to harm the snow leopards.

According to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), snow leopards are endangered. It is difficult to address and fund the protection of snow leopards when the herders in the area are poor and lack adequate resources to counter negative consequences of snow leopard activity. BWCDO’s goal is to address both of these obstacles. In northern Pakistan, local farmers make an average annual income per capita of $300. Therefore, an attack by a snow leopard on a farmer’s livestock threatens the entire livelihood of that farmer who already lives in extreme poverty. Occasionally, farmers have killed snow leopards after their herds were attacked, increasing the threat of the snow leopard’s extinction. The organization has further countered the economic losses caused by snow leopard attacks by assisting communities with predator-proof fencing and training on improved herding techniques.

A wild snow leopard in Pakistan chasing for prey (Source: Paul Sangeorzan/Google Images).

In addition to these initiatives, the abundance of glaciers in the region have helped to maintain rivers and wetlands essential to the wild antelope and sheep that snow leopards eat. However, global warming, deforestation, over hunting and logging in the area further threaten the snow leopards and jeopardize the livelihoods of the local people in northern Pakistan. If the degradation of environmental conditions continues unchecked in the region, an increase in flash floods, species extinction, pest attacks, and glacial melting is expected, placing the surrounding communities at greater risk for displacement, poverty, destruction of water bank infrastructures, and other problems.

Increased glacial melting will also leave a third of the snow leopards’ habitats unsuitable and disrupt the migratory routes of other species. For example, if temperatures increase, then the tree line will move higher up the mountains, altering the plant species that can grow and making the habitat less appealing to the snow leopards’ prey. In an interview with Babar Khan, a Senior Conservation Manager at WWF- Pakistan, told GlacierHub that “in some places, particularly on shared habitats, [changing climatic conditions] has increased the negative interactions between human and the carnivores, which has ultimately led to retaliatory killing of top predators like snow leopards, while disrupting the natural balance of the peculiar fragile mountain ecosystem, that not only affects the wildlife but the dependant human societies as well.” 

The Latok Base Camp near Biafo Glacier in Pakistan (Source: Ben Tubby/Creative Commons).

Communities like those in northern Pakistan are working hard to combat these consequences and to achieve the U.N.’s Sustainable Development Goals. The Equator Prize is one such effort that celebrates contributions by local and indigenous groups who develop innovative solutions to tackle poverty, environmental and climate challenges. Martin Sommerschuh, a program analyst at the Equator Initiative, told GlacierHub that “the Technical Committee was particularly impressed with the achievement that BWCDO set up one of the first functioning insurance schemes for livestock loss due to predation from endangered wildlife, in this case the snow leopard.”

To pick the recipient of the Equator Prize, the Technical Advisory Committee, composed of environment and development practitioners, utilizes certain criteria such as impact, innovation, scalability, resilience/adaptability, social inclusion, and gender equality. In order to be nominated, the organization must have existed for at least three years, be an indigenous people community or local community-based group, and use nature-based action related to two or more Sustainable Development Goals. This year’s recipient joins 208 other winners representing 70 countries, receives $10,000, and will have the opportunity to participate in policy discussions and special events at the U.N. General Assembly in New York.

BWCDO has encouraged the protection of snow leopards in the region by the same people who were once the snow leopard’s top predator. BWCDO continues to provide an excellent example of how partnering with locals can lead to feasible solutions to preserve wildlife and local livelihoods.

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Samar Khan Becomes First Woman to Cycle on Biafo Glacier

Samar Khan on her bicycle (Source: Samar Khan).

In August 2016, Samar Khan, 26, became the first woman to cycle 800 kilometers to reach the Biafo Glacier in northern Pakistan, where she then rode at an elevation of 4,500 m on top of the glacier. Accomplishing one of the highest glacier rides in the world, she proved that glaciers can draw attention to some of society’s most entrenched issues, from climate change to women’s rights.

“In order to change the mindsets of our people, I chose to cycle on glaciers,” Khan told GlacierHub. “I wanted people to realize the importance of what we have, how to preserve it, and what our duties are toward these majestic landmarks.”

Khan reached Biafo Glacier after 15 days of cycling from Islamabad to Skardu, becoming the first Pakistani to accomplish the feat. She was accompanied by other cyclists at various times during her journey and was honored upon her arrival by the sports board of Gilgit-Baltistan. Prior to the Biafo trip, she had previously covered 1,000 km, cycling from Islamabad to the Pakistan-Chinese border. 

Picture of Samar Khan next to her bicycle on Biafo Glacier (Source: Samar Khan).

Biafo Glacier, the third longest glacier outside the polar regions, required Kahn to disassemble her bike and carry the parts, helped by porters, for four or five days up ice and snow to reach the remote glacier before riding it. She camped near the glacier in dangerously cold conditions, telling Images, a Pakistani magazine, “Camping on the glacier was not easy. I was so cold that I couldn’t sleep and later slept with the porters in a cramped space.”

Recognizing that climate change is impacting the glaciers, Khan plans to keep cycling. “I will be cycling on other glaciers, summiting peaks, and documenting it all to create awareness about climate change and its effect on our environment,” she said. “I am going for a peak summit of 6,250 m in Arandu (Karakoram Range), Skardu, and Gilgit-Baltistan on May 14th.” Gilgit-Baltistan is a mountainous administrative territory of Pakistan, home to five peaks of at least 8,000 m in height.

Sadaffe Abid, co-founder of CIRCLE, a Pakistan-based women’s rights group focused on improving women’s socioeconomic status, talked to GlacierHub about Ms. Khan’s achievement. “It’s not common at all. It’s very challenging. For a Pakistani women, it is very unusual, as women don’t ride bicycles or motorbikes. Their mobility is extremely constrained. So, it’s a big deal and its setting new milestones,” she said.

“I am the first Pak girl to break stereotypes and cycle to northern Pakistan,” Samar Khan told CIRCLE in an interview posted on Facebook.

Samar Khan on her journey, being assisted by a porter, who carried parts of her bicycle (Source: Samar Khan).

Khan has faced sexism and violence by going against the norms in Pakistan. She recounted a story to CIRCLE about her engagement to a man. When she met his family, they gave her a list of demands including not speaking Pashto and not using social media or her cell phone. When she refused, she was beaten and thrown out of a car. She ended up in the ICU and became depressed before eventually finding cycling.

“Steps taken like this boost the confidence of other ladies in underprivileged areas and make them aware about their basic rights,” Khan said. “It makes them realize their strengths and capabilities. The change begins when they start trusting themselves instead of listening to the patriarchal society.”

Khan told GlacierHub that she also faced criticism and disbelief of her accomplishment from other sources. “There was a trekking community who criticized my way of exploring Biafo Glacier, the most challenging and rough terrain for trekkers. I was going there on my cycle, which was really hard for them to accept,” she said. “But the mainstream media supported my efforts, and many international tourists have been attracted to the Karakoram ranges after my expedition. They have seen that Pakistan is the safest place for pursuing such activities.”

Khan plans to continue to break stereotypes on her bicycle (Source: Samar Khan).

In the future, Kahn hopes to pursue her goal of making the Pakistani cycling team and qualifying for the Olympics so she can win a gold medal for Pakistan.

“Thank you Samar Khan for your courage, creativity and determination,” added Abid. “Women are Pakistan’s most untapped resource. When women grow, families prosper and nations progress.”

 

 

 

 

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Roundup: Snow Bacteria, Sting, and Glacier Awareness

Roundup: Bacteria, Sting, and Glacier Awareness

 

Snow Bacteria in the Tibetan Plateau

From INFONA: “Snow bacterial abundance and diversity at the Guoqu Glacier and the East Rongbuk Glacier located in the central and southern Tibetan Plateau were investigated using a 16S rRNA gene clone library and flow cytometry approach. Bacterial abundance was observed to show seasonal variation, with different patterns, at the two glaciers. High bacterial abundance occurs during the monsoon season at the East Rongbuk Glacier and during the non-monsoon season at the Guoqu Glacier. Seasonal variation in abundance is caused by the snow bacterial growth at the East Rongbuk Glacier, but by bacterial input from the dust at the Guoqu Glacier. Under the influence of various atmospheric circulations and temperature, bacterial diversity varies seasonally at different degrees.”

Read more about it here.

Location of Guoqu and Rongbuk Glaciers on Tibetan Plateau (source: Liu et al. / Abundance and diversity of snow bacteria in two glaciers at the Tibetan Plateau).
Location of Guoqu and Rongbuk Glaciers on Tibetan Plateau (source: Liu et al.).

 

 

New Animated Music Video – Sting’s “One Fine Day”

From AboutVideo: “Some celebrities do not grow old, not only outwardly but also in the creative plan. In November 2016, the British singer Sting has pleased his fans with a new studio album ’57th & 9th,’ his 12th. On sounding, the album refers to the days Sting was part of the band The Police. The success of the new album has fixed the singer in the top twenty of the UK Albums Charts… In the song ‘One Fine Day,’ Sting sings about protecting the environment. He calls for common sense with regard to nature and its gifts. The musician appears in the video as a silhouette on crumpled paper. The beautiful images on paper give a sense of danger. Sting shows how the glaciers are melting and the politicians are endlessly arguing with each other, leading to the destruction of the planet.”

Watch the video here.

One Fine Day by Sting (source: Sting / Youtube).
Art from One Fine Day by Sting (source: Sting/Youtube).

 

 

Raising Awareness About Glacier Retreat

From : “A group of mountaineers and a researcher from Shimshal Valley – Hunza, reached Askoli, a remote mountain village in Skardu, after walking across the Braldu Pass. They are on a a mission to raise awareness about saving glaciers from depleting… The expedition members surveyed Mulungdi glacier and Khurdupin glacier before embarking on their journey to Askoli on January 6… Pakistan is home to world’s largest ice glaciers out of the polar region. Spread over an area of 16933 square kilometers, there are over 5000 glaciers in the Gilgit-Baltistan and Chitral regions of Pakistan, including the famous Siachin Glacier, Biafo Glacier, Khoordhopin Glacier, Batura Glacier, Braldu Glacier, Snow lake and many more. These glaciers are the major source of water feeding the major rivers in Pakistan.”

Learn more here.

1st Winter Glacier Conservancy Awareness Expedition 2017 (source: Pakistan Integrated Mountain Conservancy Program).
First Winter Glacier Conservancy Awareness Expedition 2017 (source: Pakistan Integrated Mountain Conservancy Program).

 

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Photo Friday: Pakistan’s Mountain Region

With a diverse landscape, northern Pakistan is home to some of the Earth’s highest peaks. The high altitude combined with the Asian monsoon have historically provided glaciers in the region with the necessary conditions to thrive, according to National Environment Agency.

Despite their intimidating nature, the Himalayas have an extensive amount of biodiversity. “Climates range from tropical at the base of the mountains to perennial snow and ice at the highest elevations,” according to PBS.

Check out GlacierHub’s collection of images from the glacier-rich mountain region of Pakistan. You can find additional images of Pakistan’s mountains at Pamir Times.

 

Gojal Valley, Pakistan. (Source: Pamir Times)
Gojal Valley, Pakistan (Source: Pamir Times).

 

Batura Glacier, Gojal Valley, Pakistan (Source: Akbar Khan Niazi/Creative Commons).
Batura Glacier, Gojal Valley, Pakistan (Source: Akbar Khan Niazi/Creative Commons).

 

Diamir district of Gilgit-Baltistan, Pakistan (Source: Pamir Times)
Diamir district of Gilgit-Baltistan, Pakistan (Source: Pamir Times).

 

(Source: Pamir Times)
A glacier in Gilgit-Baltistan region of Pakistan (Source: Pamir Times).

 

Skardu city, Pakistan (Source: Pamir Times)
Skardu, Pakistan (Source: Pamir Times).

 

Rakaposhi Mountain located in District Nagar (Source: Pamir Times).
Rakaposhi Mountain located in District Nagar (Source: Pamir Times).

 

Hopar Glacier, Nagar Valley, Pakistan (Source: Najeebmahmud/Creative Commons)
Hopar Glacier, Nagar Valley, Pakistan (Source: Najeebmahmud/Creative Commons).

 

Ghanche District of Gilgit-Baltistan (Source: Pamir Times).
Ghanche District of Gilgit-Baltistan (Source: Pamir Times).

 

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Photo Friday: Bagrote Valley in the Karakoram

This Photo Friday, GlacierHub shares photos of the Bagrote Valley in Gilgit-Baltistan, the northernmost region of Pakistan.

These photos, taken by photographer Farman Karim Baig, illustrate the wide diversity of glacial landscapes: these photos of the valley highlight the contrast between the snowy, mountainous peaks of the nearby Hinarche Glacier and the stark, dry, low-lying valley foreground. The valley is also filled with forest and rivers.

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Many thanks to photographer Farman Karim Baig and the Pamir Times for allowing us to share his photos of the region.

 

 

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