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25 February 2020

Climate Change and Gilgit-Baltistan

Imran Khan
The writer is an Environmntal Engineer and currently works at FOCUS Humanitarian, Gilgit

Global warming is the most discussed topic of current times. Its detrimental effects can be witnessed in the form of sea level rise, periodic events of huge floods, annihilating droughts, irregular weather patterns and ravaging cyclones throughout the globe. The rise in average global temperatures and the quantity of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere have crossed all previous records. We are well aware of the causes of global warming. While highlighting the impacts of global warming on Gilgit-Baltistan, we should keep it in our mind that developing countries like Pakistan have very little contribution to global warming but the impacts are really huge and ravaging. Before going into the details of impacts, let us start with a little introduction to Gilgit-Baltistan.

Gilgit-Baltistan is a highly mountainous region in the northern part of Pakistan. Famous for its tourist locations Gilgit-Baltistan shares its borders with Afghanistan, China and Kashmir. It is home to five of the peaks with height above eight thousand meters and to more than fifty peaks above 7000 meters. Some of the world’s highest mountain ranges like Karakoram and western Himalayas lie in Gilgit-Baltistan. Biafo glacier, Baltoro glacier and the Batura glacier, which are three of the world’s longest glaciers, are found in Gilgit-Baltistan. Apart from these glaciers, a number of high-altitude lakes are also found in Gilgit-Baltistan. Major tourist spots include Deosai Plains, Fairy Meadows, Sadpara Lake, Shangrila Resort, Khunjurab Top, Altit and Baltit Forts, Attabad Lake, Shimshal Valley, Phandar Valley, Shandur and the list goes on. Karakorum Highway (KKH), which is also called the 8th wonder, connects Gilgit-Baltistan with the rest of the country. The climate of Gilgit-Baltistan varies with region to region. Towns like Gilgit and Chilas are hot during the day in summer and relatively cold at night. Valleys like Hunza-Nagar, Yasin, Astore and Khaplu have relatively low temperatures in summer as well. Winters are cold and upper parts of the region receive snowfall almost every year.

Effects of global warming on Earth’s climate is evident from the fact that recent few years have been the warmest time of the past five centuries, resulting in warming of oceans and rise in sea level, melting of glaciers and diminished snow cover in the Northern Hemisphere. A number of catastrophic climatic events have been witnessed recently, which include massive floods, prolonged droughts, hurricanes and irregular variations in the weather patterns. Now talking specifically to Gilgit-Baltistan, we are well aware that Gilgit-Baltistan is a disaster prone area. Recent incidents of heavy rains, massive floods, avalanches and rock fall events are a result of global warming and the rising temperatures have led to an increase in both frequency and intensity of such events. Starting with the snowfall of April 2005 in most parts of the region, which is very rare, there are a number of events which are result of the changing climatic trends. Land slide in Attabad, Hunza in January 2010, which resulted in the formation of Attabad Lake and a whole village went under water, massive floods in August 2010 and 2015 in the whole region and recent heavy rains and resulting floods and landslides are all result of global warming.

Prolonged droughts have also been witnessed which result in scarcity of water and whole agriculture system is suffered. The situation created after such disastrous events is much worse. Take the example of recent heavy rains and resulting floods and landslides. Almost all the roads were blocked due to land sliding and rock fall and people are facing a shortage of food items and fuel. Power houses were damaged and light is still not available. Whole communication system was disturbed. It was not possible to reach out to help the affected people. Karakorum Highway, which is the only connection between the region and the rest of the country is still blocked and people are already suffering from scarcity of food items. Prices of almost everything have gone up by almost 100% or even more. If the situation is prolonged, people will die of hunger. This is not the first time such conditions have been witnessed. After every disaster people of this area face similar problems.

It is obvious that Gilgit-Baltistan has no contribution to global warming and climate change but the region is effected most by climate change. It is not just Gilgit-Baltistan, every mountainous part of the planet is suffering and mostly those areas are suffering which have very little contribution to climate change. Now is the time to act and stop global warming, otherwise we will be unable to sustain life on this planet. We have to speak up for the issue, we have to raise our voice at every forum and we have to divert our focus to stop climate change. It must be our first priority to save the planet, Earth.