India and Pakistan are currently hit by a colossal heat wave with a destructive impact.
For several weeks, it has been causing considerable damage (see our article). In addition to the damage to the agricultural sectors and the direct impact on the population, the inhabitants are currently having to deal with the consequences of the heat wave on the neighboring Himalayan glaciers.
A situation that has important consequences since the massif is home to many hydroelectric dams that exploit glacial lakes, bodies of water resulting from the melting of glaciers. However, the latter experienced a particularly rapid episode of melting this weekend. This puts considerable strain on the infrastructure.
Early melting synonymous with spectacular floods
Usually, ice lags form during the month of May. But in some areas, such as the Hunza district, exceptional temperatures have considerably accelerated the melting of glaciers; this year, Shishper Lake began to form in April, a month early.
“The surprising element is the timing”, explains Umesh Haritashya, glaciologist at the University of Dayton interviewed by the Washington Post. “It’s way too early”, he laments. And sadly, the melting has continued ever since; and some of the glaciers that serve as a dam to these lakes could not withstand this sudden rise in temperatures. The one that contained the Shishper lake ended up breaking, with very concrete consequences on the lives of the locals.
Over a dozen houses, a community center, among properties worth tens of millions lost invillage of within a matter of hours.
A flooding from the nearbyglacier is battering the village, as locals watch helplessly.
— PAMIR TIMES ® (@pamirtimes)
According to the authorities quoted by the Washington Post, the lake would have been completely emptied; it would thus have discharged more than 10,000 cubic meters of water per second. “In essence, all the water in the lake has been drained. And that’s probably what’s caused all this devastation downstream”, explains Haritashya in reference to the spectacular flood that hit the area below.
This real torrent was so violent that it destroyed a bridge, which had the effect of isolating the village of Hasanabad. In this village located on the front line at the foot of the glacier, the water also destroyed more than a dozen houses and two power stations, and caused gigantic damage to crops and the rest of the infrastructure.
The Himalayas, a threatened reservoir of glaciers
An obviously dramatic situation for the inhabitants, but which also has other, even more significant implications. Because the situation at Lake Shishper is far from being an isolated case. In northern Pakistan alone, more than 3,000 glacial lakes have already developed as a result of global temperature rises. And among them, 33 represent a very real risk of flooding.
A threat that unfortunately will not stop increasing until temperatures drop. The locals know this only too well; the Hunza region has already been hit by numerous floods of glacial origin since 2018.
And according to many experts, the situation is not going to improve. Meteorologists expect temperatures to hit new records, especially today and tomorrow. The population therefore remains on the alert in order to be able to react quickly in the event of a disaster.
“Pakistan has the largest number of glaciers outside of the polar regions, and many of them are melting visibly due to high temperatures“, hasSherry Rehman, Pakistani Minister for Climate Change. Further proof that there is often a considerable gap between those primarily responsible and the victims of the consequences of global warming.