13 April 2016

Landslide damage to the Karakoram Highway

Posted by dr-dave

Landslide damage to the Karakoram Highway

The Pamir Times yesterday ran a news story about the ongoing disruption caused by extensive landsliding on the Karakoram Highway in Pakistan.  From the article:

The Karakoram Highway has been closed for traffic since 2nd April, the day torrential rainfall triggered hazards wreaked havoc across the Gilgit-Baltistan region, killing 16 people, mostly in the Diamer District. The Karakoram Highway was blocked at more than a hundred locations, which has now been cleared for most part, save for two major blockades in the Kohistan District of KPK.  A portion of the KKH was completely destroyed by a landslide in the Chuchang area of Dassu, Komila, while a major landslide blocked the treacherous highway in Kiyal area…The government of Gilgit-Baltistan has said that opening the road for traffic can take up to one more week.

After the rainfall reports suggest that the highway was blocked in over 200 places by landslides, but most of these have now been cleared.  However, the remaining blockages do seem to be extremely serious.  This is the landslide at Chuchang (sometimes spelt Chochang), posted to the twitter account of Wasif Shakil:

Karakoram Highway

Landslide at Chuchang on the Karakoram Highway via Wasif Shakil

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The challenges of clearing this landslide, and making the road safe, are clear.  The Pamir Times article has an image of the attempts to create a new road across this landslide:

Karakoram Highway

Attempts to create a new path through the landslide at Chuchang on the Karakoram Highway, via the Pamir Times

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The other site appears to be at Kiyal.  Gilgit News Time posted images of this landslide on 8th April:

Karakoram Highway

The landslide at Kiyal on the Karakoram Highway via Gilgit News Time

Karakoram Highway

The landslide at Kiyal on the Karakoram Highway via Gilgit News Time

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Given that the slide surface is solid rock and passes through the level of the road this is going to be extremely challenging to repair quickly.

The impact of these closures is serious.  The Pamir Times reports shortages of food and fuel, with many areas also without electricity.  But perhaps the biggest impact of the landslides is on the irrigation system:

The lands across Gilgit-Baltistan are irrigated by using glacial water brought to the human settlements by digging channels through vulnerable mountain sloped and rocks. These water channels have been damaged to a very large extent across the region, posing a serious threat to the livelihood means of thousands of farmers.

In a landscape that is genuinely astonishing, these channels are incredible feats of engineering.  This is an example, cutting across a steep, unstable rock slope. that I photographed in Gilgit in 2010 when I was working on Attabad:

Karakoram Highway

An irrigation channel near Gilgit on the Karakoram Highway

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The loss of these channels, and the work that will be needed to restore them at a key point in the agricultural year, is very significant.