Pakistan is home to more glaciers than anywhere in the world outside the polar regions, but as the climate warms, it’s becoming more vulnerable to sudden outbursts of melting glacier water that have the power to bring widespread destruction to its people.
The country’s chief meteorologist has warned that this year alone, Pakistan has seen triple the usual amount of glacial lake outbursts — a sudden release of water from a lake fed by glacier melt — that can cause catastrophic flooding.
Sardar Sarfaraz from Pakistan’s Meterological Department said Thursday that there have been 16 such incidents in the country’s northern Gilgit-Baltistan region in 2022, compared with just five or six seen in previous years.
“Such incidents occur after glaciers melt due to [a] rise in temperature,” Sarfaraz told Reuters, adding:
“Climate change is the basic reason for such things.”
Melting glaciers is one of the clearest, most visible signs of the climate crisis and one of its most direct consequences.
It’s not yet clear how much Pakistan’s current flooding crisis might be connected to glacial melt. But unless planet-warming emissions are reined in, Sarfaraz suggests that the country’s glaciers will continue to melt at speed.
“Global warming will not stop until we curtail greenhouse gasses and if global warming does not stop, these climate change effects will be on the rise,” he said.
Pakistan is responsible for less than 1% of the world’s planet-warming gases, according to European Union data, yet it is the eighth most vulnerable nation to the climate crisis, according to the Global Climate Risk Index.
That vulnerability has been on display for months, with record monsoon rains and melting glaciers in the country’s northern mountains triggering floods that have killed at least 1,191 people — including 399 children — since mid-June.
A local resident stands beside his damaged house in June after a glacial lake outburst unleashed catastrophic flooding in the northern Pakistan village of Hassanabad.
A vehicle drives past a partially collapsed section of Pakistan’s Karakoram Highway damaged after a glacial lake outburst in the country’s Gilgit-Baltistan region.