10 March 2010

Attabad landslide – the Pakistan Government response

Posted by Dave Petley

Yesterday a meeting was held by the Ministry of the Environment in Islamabad to discuss the Attabad landslide, based at least in part on my report from my recent field visit on behalf of Focus. I am glad to say that the upshot of that meeting is that the authorities are now preparing an evacuation plan for a potential breach of the lake, according to this report:

“As over 15,000 persons are at high risk due to blockade of Hunza river due to an avalanche, Minister for Environment Hamidullah Jan Afridi Tuesday directed authorities to prepare an emergency plan to rescue people prior to releasing the water. At an important meeting held to review the situation after accumulation of water in the Hunza river, the minister asked FWO, NESPAK, NDMA and other authorities to conduct an immediate study of the impact if lake bursts out, and prepare a foolproof plan. “Let us come up with a time-frame and estimated volume of damages if the lake outbursts and also gauge the magnitude of relief we needed thereon,” he asked the participants of the meeting, belonging to key departments like NDMA, NESPAK, SUPARCO, WAP-DA, Ministries of Environment and Interior and the Gilgit-Baltistan government. “Lives of the people are important for us. We need a comprehensive study and plan for expected damages and rescue efforts,” Afridi said, adding that he would seek support from the Chinese government to release water from the Hunza river. The Hunza river was blocked after a two-kilometre wide and 380 feet high avalanche slipped into it at Ata Abad on January 4. Due to this avalanche, the water was blocked and created a 213 feet deep and 11.5 kilometre long lake. The experts briefed the minister that the outburst of this lake would damage vast area and also threaten lives of more than 15,000 people from Hunza down to Gilgit and onwards to NWFP upto Tarbela dam. Ms Khadija from SCOPE in her presentation mentioned that more than 500,000 people would suffer, to minor and major magnitude, if the water is not released and the lake bursts out spontaneously. She also mentioned of the impact downstream Gilgit upto Tarbela and proposed to gradually release the water from the lake ensuring minimum damages. It is worth mentioning that a spontaneous outburst will not only displace thousands of residents but also have a reverse flow impact on Gilgit, Gizer and Skardu rivers like the 1858 floods that had reversed the flow of Kabul river upto 50 kilometres. It will further be aggravating the damages exposing the localities besides these rivers to hazards as well as damaging around 30 kilometre patch of Korakorum Highway. The water level in the lake had risen to 213 feet by Tuesday and was rising by two feet daily. The situation will become more dangerous with increased inflow after melting of snow as temperature usually rises upto four degree centigrade in April.”

It is good to see that the government is responding to the threat posed by this landslide dam.