Influencing National Programmes on GLOFs

The HKH region contains the largest concentration of snow, glaciers, and permafrost. The snow and ice-covered HKH Mountains are a natural resource of water and the source of ten major river systems in Asia that supply water to more than 1.3 billion people downstream.   

Mountain communities frequently suffer natural calamities including devastating floods, landslides, and earthquakes. Climate change multiplies the causes of such calamities. Changes in the cryosphere of the HKH have the potential to positively and, at the same time, negatively impact millions of people, especially those who are dependent on water supplies fed by snow and glacier melt. Glacier thinning and retreat in the HKH region has resulted in the formation of new glacial lakes. This phenomenon has also led to accumulation of more melt water in existing glacial lakes, which has resulted in considerable enlargement of such lakes. Such lakes are inherently unstable and subject to the release of massive amounts of water, causing human and land catastrophes in the valleys below them. The torrent of water and associated debris that the sudden lake discharge produces is known as glacial lake outburst flood (GLOF).  

With warming in the HKH being higher than the global average (ICIMOD, 2007), climate induced natural hazards are likely to be exacerbated, including severe glacial melting and the formation of glacial lakes and, GLOFs. Among other studies, the Impact of Climate Change on Himalayan Glaciers and Glacial Lakes (ICIMOD, 2007), the Inventory of Glaciers, Glacial Lakes and Glacial Lake Outburst Floods (ICIMOD, 2001), the Status of Glaciers in the Hindu Kush Himalayan Region (ICIMOD, 2011) and Glacial Lakes and Glacial Lake Outburst Floods in Nepal (ICIMOD, 2011) have been important undertakings to generate accurate information and knowledge on glaciers and associated GLOFs in the region. Utilizing the evidence-based knowledge and results from the accomplished high-quality assessments, these studies made strong policy recommendations to respond to what is a significant hazard. Findings from these studies were widely disseminated at national and international levels through various multilingual knowledge products. ICIMOD also hosted high level conferences involving high officials from line ministries in Nepal and policy makers from regional member countries.

Impact in Nepal

At the policy level, these studies have contributed to the formation of the National Adaptation Programme of Action (NAPA), which was endorsed by the Government of Nepal on 28 September 2010. ICIMOD’s input was highly instrumental towards this end, which was very well received by the line ministries in Nepal.

Through the 'Least Developed Countries Funding' widow from the Global Environment Facility (GEF), the UNDP secured funds to implement a three-year project entitled ‘Nepal: Community Based Flood and Glacial Lake Outburst Risk Reduction’. The project aims to develop early warning systems against climate-related extreme events; monitor conditions for, and development of, programmes related to GLOFs; and to raise awareness and understanding among local communities about the necessity and benefits of preparedness for climate change. The project priorities are aligned with those of the recommendations made by the ICIMOD study. The UNDP not only used the data and results generated during this study as a baseline, but ICIMOD has played an instrumental role during the design and inception stages of this project. The project will reach out to the vulnerable communities in Solukhumbu District and the communities living in the Terai and Churai range in Nepal.

Impact in Pakistan

In Pakistan the outcome of these studies has been the recent joint project designed by the Government of Pakistan, Ministry of Climate Change, and UNDP (ICIMOD, 2012). The project has simultaneously chosen two sites in Gilgit-Baltistan and Chitral. Aimed at reducing the risk of GLOF-related disasters, the project will introduce a system of early warning mechanisms in the project areas. The project also aims to develop the ability of public institutions and vulnerable communities to understand and address the risk of potential GLOFs. The initial project design is based on the recommendations made in the ICIMOD studies. This is among the first initiative to be funded by the UN Adaptation Fund in Pakistan. This project could serve as a model for other GLOF-related projects in the HKH region.  

Impact in Bhutan

In Bhutan, UNDP is implementing a five-year project titled 'Reducing Climate Change-induced Risks and Vulnerabilities from Glacial Lake Outburst Floods in the Punakha-Wangdi and Chamkhar Valleys'. The project, funded by the Least Developed Countries Fund, UNDP, the Austrian Government, and WWF, has been conceived to support the Royal Government of Bhutan to integrate long-term climate change-induced risk reduction planning and management into the existing disaster management framework and practices and implement corresponding capacity development measures at the national level focusing on Punakha-Wangdi and Chamkhar valleys, which are among Bhutan’s most vulnerable valleys downstream of potentially dangerous glacial lakes. It also aims to demonstrate a practical approach to reduce GLOF risks from Thorthormi Lake, considered one of most dangerous glacial lakes in the country. Complementary to this demonstration, the project seeks to ensure that an upgraded early warning system is established in the Punakha-Wangdi valley, taking sufficient account of the growing risk of climate change-induced GLOFs in the area.