Planning for disaster

February 18,2019

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It is good to see authorities take measures to prepare for a possible disaster which could occur in the Hunza Valley if the Shisper glacier surges, resulting in the bursting of an artificial lake. The area in Hunza and the artificial lake in Hasanabad Village have been visited by top military and disaster relief officials who have been following the unusual surge of the glacier which began in May last year. It is good to see preparedness at this point. Experts say that the lake may gradually release water through crevices and the glacier may melt away, presenting no threat to people downstream. However, it is also possible that a sudden discharge of water as a result of rising temperatures in June and July may create a lake burst which would affect the residents of several villages. Advance arrangements to safeguard the population and to evacuate Hasanabad and other villages if necessary are being put in place. The food department and the National Highway Authority have been involved in the planning so as to avoid a closure of roads and to organise a stocking up of food supplies.

These steps are important. They suggest we have learnt at least some lessons from our past. Pakistan lies in a zone which is prone to natural disaster. In 2010, the landslide which led to the creation of the Attabad Lake in Hunza and the sweeping away of several villages affected the entire population of Hunza and the Gojal Valley. Perhaps greater advance planning could have prevented the severe food shortages and crisis experienced in the area which lasted for months. There have been other examples in the past. In 2007, Cyclone Yemyin killed 300 people after hitting the coast of Balochistan and affected two million in the province. In many cases, it took years for disaster hit areas to make any kind of recovery from the destruction caused by the fierce winds and rains brought in by the cyclone. There are other examples scattered throughout our recent history. Cyclones have periodically hit the country, as have earthquakes, with the disastrous aftermath of the October 2005 quake in Azad Kashmir and parts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa just one example.

Of course, not all disasters can be predicted. However, where this can happen, as in the case of cyclones, storms or even drought which has claimed the lives of thousands of children in Tharparkar over the last decade, it is essential to have steps in place in advance to minimise human suffering as far as is possible. Even when disaster comes suddenly and unpredictably, as in the case of many earthquakes, better relief infrastructure and disaster management plans could help prevent chaos and misery which affects lives, sometimes for generations. The advance measures already being taken in the area which could be affected by a surge in the Shisper Glacier is therefore welcome. We hope these plans will prove effective and managed in a way where they can be implemented whenever a similar disaster is set in motion as a result of the climate change we are facing.


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