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Flash Floods in Chitral, Pakistan caused by Glacier Lake Outburst Flood (GLOF).

November 27, 2017
Pakistan’s north is ringed by three major mountain ranges – the Karakoram, the Hindukush and the Himalayas – where mountain peaks can be as high as 8,000 metres above the sea level. Nestled around these peaks are some of the largest glaciers outside the earth’s polar region. Their importance to life and lifestyles in Pakistan is easy to gauge. Glaciers in the northern areas provide 60 per cent of all the water that flows through the Indus River — that benevolent irrigator of farmlands and magnificent producer of hydro-electric power.

These glaciers are receding as layers of their pristine ice melt due to rising temperatures. This is creating massive lakes of water held back only by a thinning veneer of ice. When temperature increases further, these lakes burst through the ice, leading to a sudden discharge of huge volumes of water. This causes flash floods that are known among scientists by a rather unwieldy name: Glacier Lake Outburst Flood (GLOF).

In July 2015, a flash flood hit Reshun Gol in Upper-Chitral, northwest of Pakistan. Famous for its lush green fields, fruit orchards and picturesque view, the village has been inhabited by people for more than a millennium because of its fertile soil and freshwater streams, flowing downhill from the glaciers above. Each house here had a kitchen garden that supplied vegetables for the whole year. Sources for making a living were aplenty: men worked on farmland and sold fruits; women reared livestock.

When the flood left the village, it took away three lives and washed away 132 houses. It also destroyed a community hospital and a 4.2 megawatt hydroelectric power station that provided electricity to most of Chitral district.

The Pakistan Meteorological Department issued this warning on July 24, 2015: “During [the] next 4-5 days a severe weather system is likely to persist in [Gilgit-Baltistan] and Chitral, having potential to produce Glacial Lake Outburst Flood (GLOF).” This helped the villagers save their lives and valuables by moving to safer places just in time.

Now, entire families have been forced to migrate away from the streams that once sustained them, but now swell into unexpected floods of unparalleled ferocity.

About 80 kilometres northeast of Reshun Gol, another lush and fertile village called Brep, on the road between Chitral and Broghil, was hit by a similar flood the next day. The raging, swelling, rushing waters destroyed 112 of the village’s 484 houses.

65-year-old Mohiuddin and his family – like many others who lost their houses to the flood in Reshun Gol – now live in a rented house a little away from the stream. Some villagers are still living close to the stream in shelters provided by the Aga Khan Planning and Building Services (AKPBS), a non-governmental development organisation.

A few have migrated to Chitral town. Such displacement is unprecedented by local standards. In the past, only a few young men would leave the village to find work elsewhere, especially during the winters, to earn some extra cash. Now, entire families have been forced to migrate away from the streams that once sustained them, but now swell into unexpected floods of unparalleled ferocity.
  • People who lost their houses in flash flood now live in shelters. In this photo, washed cloths of a family have been hung on a dried tree outside the shelter.
    Reshun Gol, Chitral Pakistan
  • Mohiuddin who lost his home and 4-year-old daughter in a flash flood in Reshun Gol village, Chitral, Pakistan.
    Reshun Gol, Chitral Pakistan
  • A villager inspecting the remains of a community hospital after flash flood in Reshun Gol, upper Chitral, Pakistan
    Reshun Gol, Pakistan Pakistan
  • A villager inspecting the remains of Labour Room in a community hospital after flash flood in Reshun Gol, upper Chitral, Pakistan
    Reshun Gol, Chitral Pakistan
  • Lush and fertile village named Brep, 140 km northeast of Chitral, Pakistan was hit by Flash Flood on July 27, 2015. The raging, swelling, rushing waters destroyed 112 of the village’s 484 houses. This was caused by Glacier Lake Outburst Flood (GLOF) and the entire village was dug under moraine and debris from the flood. The villagers also lost their agricultural land and fresh water pipelines. The villagers now have to drink glacial water collected by village women on daily basis from a glacial water channel.
    Reshun Gol, Chitral Pakistan
  • The flash flood in Reshun Gol washed away a 4.2 megawatt hydroelectric power station that provided electricity to most of Chitral district. The people of the district have been living without power since then.
    Reshun Gol, Chitral Pakistan
  • A girl in Reshun Gol is charging a battery from solar panel for power since the major hydro-power plant was washed away in flash flood.
    Reshun Gol, Chitral Pakistan
  • Most of the shops and houses are now using a low-budget solar energy for light in evening in Reshun Gol since the flash flood in washed away a 4.2 megawatt hydroelectric power station that provided electricity to most of Chitral district. The people of the district have been living without power since then.
  • A villager cuts down a tree for fire-wood. Earlier they used to have electric-stoves in the village but because the flash flood washed away a 4.2 megawatt hydroelectric power station that provided electricity to most of Chitral district, they have no other option but to use fire wood for heating and cooking.
    Brep, Chitral Pakistan
  • Flash flood in Brep washed away the whole market of the village which was once full of grocery and clothing items for the villagers. In this photo, a local has set up a small make-shift shop made of tin over the debris of his previous shop. The shop has all kinds of necessities such as warm cloths, sugar, flour etc.
    Brep, Chitral Pakistan