The head of the meteorological department has termed the current record snowfall a much needed lifeline for the fast melting glaciers in the three mountain ranges – Himalayas, Karakuram and Hindukush – which contain the third biggest glacier stock of the world only after the two polar regions. These glaciers feed important river systems in Bangladesh, India, China and Pakistan providing sustenance to 1.6 billion people. Since 1989 the biggest glacier in this region – Siachen- has melted by 17% and its length comes to six miles. If this trend is not reversed, the entire region will face serious drought conditions by the end of the century.
The current snowfall which did break 50 years record in some areas will stop the melting process for this year but in the long run serious human efforts must go into preserving the glaciers and these efforts include elimination of human presence in the region, preventing cattle from going near it for grazing which results in emission of methane gas and reduction in carbon emissions by fuel substitution. It is encouraging to know that the world considers the glacier resources as common heritage of mankind and rich countries provide funds to the people living in the catchments areas of glaciers to use carbon free energy. Unfortunately these funds have been misutilized and quite a bulk recycled in consultancy services, leaving behind only a filter down effect. Micro hydel projects created with this money only serve lighting purposes offering no potential for heating and cooking.
The most dangerous aspect of climate change is not the consistent rise in temperature but its erratic nature which makes the climate unpredictable and un-natural, likely to cause snowfall in summer and warm conditions in winter causing disasters. Since 1999 our region has seen 32 climate related disasters. The tendency is no different in Europe and North America. It is disturbing that states do realize the seriousness of the problem but do not have the political will to act and agree to reduce emission of heat generating gases like carbon, methane and CFCs etc. Recommendations of global climate change conferences have yet to be fully implemented. Our success in restoring Ozone layer should give us confidence that we can also succeed in other areas as well.
But the problem is to make the common man responsible for his acts. Unless individual acts and habits are conditioned we cannot succeed. For example, this year the Mehtar of Chitral banned duck hunting on his property. Educated people used their influence to reverse this decision despite realizing the pressing need for conserving wild life and their contention was that first the ban should be globally imposed before asking them to ban it. The forest coverage in Chitral has dropped from 15% in 1947 to 3.5% now but no one feels pushed to ban cutting of trees and go for reforestation on war footing.
Despite record snowfall elsewhere Chitral received less because of the moderate northerly winds but the unique aspect was that even the towns of Drosh and Chitral received same amount of snow as Garam Chashma which was unprecedented. However mountain tops and glacier regions have received a great deal which makes us nervous about floods in summer if timely efforts are not made to construct and strengthen protective works. Almost all the rivers and rivulets in Chitral are glacier fed and in recent years many valleys were inundated due to sliding glaciers. This year the situation is going to be worse.
Meanwhile Garam Chashma valley remains cut off from Chitral town due to snow and avalanche. The two tractor trolleys provided by ANP government are of no help while one or two bulldozers available with the district administration have been diverted to preferred areas to open roads. Any further delay will result in serious shortage of goods of daily use in Garam Chashma. Para-military force personnel and local volunteers are busy day and night to improve communication for pedestrians commuting locally but opening the main road for vehicular traffic is a tall order requiring heavy machinery. In the past local body institutions were of some help in terms of responding to public needs in time but this year the old order of the deputy commissioners has been brought back. Let us see how effectively it responds to the dire situation.