KHAPLU, GILGIT-BALTISTAN: A glacial lake outburst flood (GLOF) has destroyed and swept away a strategic bridge in Pakistan’s northern Gilgit-Baltistan region, disconnecting it with China and renewing concerns about disastrous effects of climate change in the South Asian country.
The incident occurred near Hassanabad, a village in Pakistan’s mountainous Hunza valley, on Saturday after Shishper glacier started melting more rapidly. The floodwater destroyed Hassanabad Bridge on the strategic Karakoram Highway (KKH) that links Pakistan to China.
The GLOF-induced erosion damaged over 15 houses, hundreds of trees, cultivated lands as well as two power houses.
"Shishper glacier started to move and surge towards an adjacent glacier three years ago and the GLOF phenomenon came into existence," Hunza Assistant Commissioner Abdul Wahab Khan told Arab News on Sunday.
"Since then, the glacier outbursts in June-July every year. The district administration stood alert with all machinery for mitigation work."
He said the outburst began at around 8:30am on Saturday morning and the Hassanabad Bridge collapsed when the flow of water reached 8,500 cusecs between 4pm and 4:30pm.
The incident halted traffic on the KKH from central Hunza to lower parts of the district, however, the local administration opened an alternate route for light traffic through Nagar district.
"There is no shortage of food and medical supplies, but we are facing a shortage of petroleum [products] due to the collapse of the bridge. We are in contact with PSO (Pakistan State Oil) officials to supply fuel through an alternative route," the assistant commissioner said.
"The situation is under control and the water discharge is only 700 cusecs. The rehabilitation and restoration work being carried out on war footings."
On the directives of Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, Khurram Agha, the National Highway Authority (NHA) chairman, also reached Hunza to examine the situation and damage caused by glacial flooding.
"On an emergency basis, a compact bridge would be temporarily installed to restore traffic, while a team of experts would visit the site on Monday to prepare the design of the permanent bridge," Agha said. "The permanent bridge would be ready within next seven-eight months."
Khalid Saleem, the Gilgit-Baltistan Disaster Management Authority director-general, said an alternate route had been opened for tourists and locals, bypassing the GLOF-hit Hassanabad area. He, however, said it had only been opened for light traffic.
"Work for the restoration of road has begun and alternate arrangements are being made for power supply. A tourist facilitation center has also been established at the Hunza AC (assistant commissioner) office in Aliabad," Saleem said on Twitter.