7 June 2010

Attabad – an increasingly difficult hazard to manage

Posted by Dave Petley

Apologies to all who emailed and left messages over the weekend requesting updates. 

FWO data collected at 8 am on Saturday suggests that the rate of flow was 124.6 cumecs, whilst the Pamir Times reported yesterday that it was 131.7 cumecs.  If so, the discharge time graph looks like this:

Thus, the discharge is apparently stabilising.  Various media reports from the site itself suggest that downward erosion of the channel has now reduced, but that some lateral erosion is still occurring.  I have not seen any images to confirm this though.  The lake has stopped rising for now.

It is hard from here to assess the current position with regards to the dam, or to forecast what will happen next.  However, from the start I have held the view that managing this hazard would be somewhat challenging if stable flow became established.  The chronic hazard has not gone away, although the acute hazard may have reduced.  As there is still a vast quantity of water stored in the landscape, the dam remains vulnerable to a series of processes, including:

  1. An unexpected increase in erosion rate;
  2. Erosion during flood events (the discharge of the Hunza will rise substantially in the next few weeks);
  3. A further landslide on the banks of the lake, which could trigger a wave;
  4. A seismic event.

Thus, NDMA have a huge challenge ahead in deciding when to allow people to move back into the high hazard area.  They will also need to decide whether to initiate erosion through the use of a controlled blast.  This is not an unenviable decision to make.  Inevitably, there are some exerting pressure to initiate a breach to drain the lake, whilst others are happy with the status quo.

Meanwhile, of course those on the upstream side remain isolated, with a huge lake impeding access.  The Karakoram Highway remains closed indefinitely, although the boat service has been resumed.  During summer floods, when inflow may briefly exceed outflow, the lake level could rise again by a small amount, unless progressive erosion of the spillway serves to lower the lake level.  Thus, overall, many challenges remain at Attabad.; it will be interesting to see how NDMA responds to them.