Protecting Pakistan’s natural heritage: Diminishing water supply and melting glaciers

Protecting Pakistan’s natural heritage: Diminishing water supply and melting glaciers

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A glacier monitoring team heading to the Khordopin glacier. Photo: Karamat Ali

The report then goes on to note that glaciers in the region have thinned, retreated and lost mass across the HKH region since the 70s, except for parts of the Karakoram, eastern Pamir and western Kunlun.

“These trends are projected to continue, with possibly large consequences for the timing and magnitude of glacier melt runoff and glacier lake expansion.”

It is certain that smaller glaciers are melting in the mountains of Chitral and Gilgit-Baltistan, and residents have also been victims to periodic glacial lake floods in recent years. The ones that are growing, however, are located in elevations higher and colder than many other glacier systems. According to Advisor to the Prime Minister on Climate Change Malik Amin Aslam,

“The large glaciers in the Karakoram Mountain Range, which falls mainly in Pakistan, are not behaving like the ones in the other ranges. The Karakoram Anomaly is a fact and some of our glaciers are growing, which may be a blessing for Pakistan. However, the rising temperatures in the region are an area of concern and we need more research on the Karakoram specifically. We also need to take measures to protect ourselves.”

A melting glacier near Naran. Photo: Walkabout Films

The Federal Ministry of Climate Change will be implementing a $37 million project to scale up glacial lake outburst flood (GLOF) risk reduction in northern Pakistan this coming year. The International Green Climate Fund is giving us the money as a grant.

The existence of the Karakoram Anomaly might be good news for Pakistan, but Philippus Wester from ICIMOD, who spearheaded the report, suggests that while the impact of warming is indeed variable and some glaciers in Afghanistan and Pakistan are stable and a few are even gaining ice, they will nonetheless start to melt in time as the warming gets worse.

The melting glaciers will thus increase river flows around 2050, according to Wester, pushing up the risk of GLOFs. However, in the following decades, river flows will go into decline, affecting the Indus and central Asian rivers the most.

The growing Khordopin glacier in the remote Shimshal Valley. Photo: Karamat Ali

Pakistan’s glaciers provide a vital water source, acting as giant water tanks for us living below in the Indus Basin. However, due to insufficient on-site measurements, few high-elevation weather stations, rugged terrain and the remote location of our largest glaciers, we really don’t know for sure what the future has in store for us.

To really establish the consequence of glacial melt on the region’s local water supply, we need to move beyond satellite data and towards on-ground assessment. Pakistan thus needs more resources to investigate these massive glaciers in order to get a clearer idea of how changes in these vast rivers of ice will impact our already diminishing water supply in the years to come.

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