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.
The meeting was also informed that flow in the river is recorded at 64 cusecs in January, 65 cusecs in February, 69 in March, 83 in April, 213 cusecs in May, 901 in June and 1100 cusecs in July. Waiting in this scenario would be dangerous. Let us decide it now and also assess the actual volume of water accumulated there, observed former Governor NWFP and Chairman WAPDA Shamsul Mullek. Actually we need to gauge the volume and the tide thereon that may rise after the lake explodes, he added after the experts estimated the tide height from 40 to 60 feet.
It was also informed that people living upto the height of 50 feet would be vulnerable. The Chief Secretary Gilgit-Baltistan informed the meeting that the provincial government had ensured sufficient measures in case of evacuation like food items, fuel, medicines and space for camps where the displaced persons would be temporarily settled. It was also observed that if the water level rises to the point that it touches side-by glaciers, then glaciers will start melting due to thermal impact of water. Moreover, the increase in water flow in coming months will aggravate the threat, if the water already accumulated is not released.
Shamsul Mullek also proposed to release the present storage of water down to Tarbela as it has ample space and then prepare for more inflow, expected in coming months. Majority of the participants were of view to discharge certain volume of water by constructing spillways atop the avalanche and then gradually bringing them down to bottom.
It was also mentioned that usually water in Hunza river takes two days to reach Gilgit but if the lake bursts, the enormous pressure will make the water reach Gilgit area in two hours. We have to do lot of work but we are short of time. Let us meet again on Wednesday and set some time frame for action to release the water, said Minister for Environment, Hamidullah Jan Afridi. If we have to release water now, then why to wait from another month as level is rising two feet daily, he added. Experts will now meet on Wednesday to discuss the time frame and strategy to release water and also start rescue activities.