'In the mouth of dragons': Melting glaciers threaten Pakistan’s north

This aerial picture taken on June 10, 2022, shows Passu glacier near Passu village in Pakistan's Gilgit-Baltistan region. (AFP)
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Updated 07 July 2022

'In the mouth of dragons': Melting glaciers threaten Pakistan’s north

  • Pakistan is home to more than 7,000 glaciers, more than anywhere else on Earth outside the poles 
  • Rising global temperatures linked to climate change are causing the glaciers to rapidly melt 

HASSANABAD, Pakistan: As dawn broke over Javed Rahi’s Pakistani mountain village, a loud boom shattered the silence and a torrent of water came cascading down from the melting glacier nearby, followed by a thick cloud of smoke.

Rahi, a retired maths teacher, had been due to attend his nephew’s wedding the day the flood rushed through the village of Hassanabad.

“I expected women and children to sing and dance... Instead I heard them screaming in terror,” the 67-year-old said.

“It was like doomsday.”




In this picture taken on June 9, 2022, the remains of two electrical power stations are seen after they were swept away by a lake outburst because of a melting glacier, in Hassanabad village of Pakistan's Gilgit-Baltistan region. (AFP)

The flood — which occurred as a heatwave was gripping South Asia in May — swept away nine homes in the village and damaged half a dozen more.

The water also washed away two small hydro plants and a bridge that connected the remote community to the outside world.




In this picture taken on June 9, 2022, locals and tourists drive through a temporary bridge after the main bridge was swept away by a lake outburst because of a melting glacier, in Hassanabad village of Pakistan's Gilgit-Baltistan region. (AFP)

Pakistan is home to more than 7,000 glaciers, more than anywhere else on Earth outside the poles.

Rising global temperatures linked to climate change are causing the glaciers to rapidly melt, creating thousands of glacial lakes.

The government has warned that 33 of these lakes — all located in the spectacular Himalaya, Hindu Kush and Karakoram mountain ranges that intersect in Pakistan — are at risk of bursting and releasing millions of cubic meters of water and debris in just a few hours, like in Hassanabad.

At least 16 such glacial lake outburst floods linked to heatwaves have occurred this year already, compared with an average of five or six per year, the Pakistani government said earlier this week.

The devastation caused by such floods makes recovery for impacted communities an arduous task.

After disaster struck Hassanabad, Rahi and fellow villagers who lost their homes had to move to a nearby camp for displaced people.




In this picture taken on June 9, 2022, local resident Javed Rahi shows damages in his home caused by a lake outburst because of a melting glacier, in Hassanabad village of Pakistan's Gilgit-Baltistan region. Pakistan is home to more than 7,000 glaciers, more than anywhere else on Earth outside the poles. (AFP)

Inside their makeshift tents are the few belongings they managed to salvage and mattresses to sleep on.

“We never thought we would fall from riches to rags,” Rahi said.




In this picture taken on June 9, 2022, local residents pick cherries from a tree beside tents setup after their homes were swept by a lake outburst because of a melting glacier, in Hassanabad village of Pakistan's Gilgit-Baltistan region. (AFP)

Pakistan is the world’s eighth most vulnerable country to extreme weather caused by climate change, according to the Global Climate Risk Index compiled by the environmental NGO Germanwatch.

The country is experiencing earlier, hotter and more frequent heatwaves, with temperatures already hitting 50 degrees Celsius (122 Fahrenheit) this year.

Floods and droughts in recent years have killed and displaced thousands of people, destroyed livelihoods, and damaged infrastructure.




In this picture taken on June 9, 2022, residents removes a door from a damaged house after a lake outburst because of a melting glacier in Hassanabad village of Pakistan's Gilgit-Baltistan region. (AFP)

According to the UN Development Programme, a lack of information on glacial changes in Pakistan makes it difficult to predict hazards originating from them.

Although Hassanabad had an early warning system in place — including cameras that monitor water flow in glacial lakes — the villagers believed they were living high enough above the water to avoid any impact, according to local officials.

Zahida Sher, who lost her home in the Hassanabad flood, said the power of the water took out buildings that had previously been considered safe.

The mountain communities depend on their livestock, orchards, farms and tourism for survival, but climate change threatens all of it.

“Our economy is agrarian and people don’t have enough resources to move from here,” said Sher, a researcher for a local development NGO.




In this picture taken on June 9, 2022, residents removes a door from a damaged house after a lake outburst because of a melting glacier in Hassanabad village of Pakistan's Gilgit-Baltistan region. (AFP)

Siddique Ullah Baig, a disaster risk reduction analyst in the northern region, said around seven million people are vulnerable to such events, but many are not aware of the gravity of the threat.

“People are still constructing homes in areas declared as a red zone for flooding. Our people are not aware and prepared to deal with any possible disaster,” he told AFP.

Further north of Hassanabad lies Passu, another precarious hamlet that has already lost around 70 percent of its population and area after being hit by floods and natural river erosion.

The village is sandwiched between White glacier in the south, Batura glacier in the north and the Hunza River in the east — three forces given the respectful title of “dragons” because of their destructive power.

“Passu village lies in the mouths of these three dragons,” said local scholar Ali Qurban Mughani, pointing to the centuries-old bodies of dense ice towering over the village.

As he spoke, laborers worked on a protective concrete wall on a riverbank — a bid to shield the village from further erosion.

Kamran Iqbal invested 500,000 rupees (around $2,400) that he borrowed from a local NGO to open a picnic spot for visitors with a breathtaking view.

The beauty of the glaciers has made the region one of the country’s top tourist destinations.

Business was flourishing until a “horror night” last year when a flash flood washed away Iqbal’s investment.

Even the most ambitious international climate targets of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees by the end of the century could lead to the melting of one third of Pakistan’s glaciers, the Nepal-based scientific organization the International Center for Integrated Mountain Development said in a 2019 study.

“In 2040 we could start facing problems of (water) scarcity that could lead to drought and desertification — and before that we may have to cope with frequent and intense riverine flooding, and of course flash floods,” said Aisha Khan, head of the Mountain and Glacier Protection Organization, which researches glaciers in Pakistan.

Home to more than 220 million people, Pakistan says it is responsible for less than one percent of global greenhouse gas emissions.

Yet it remains highly vulnerable to climate change impacts, dependent on climate-sensitive sectors such as agriculture and natural resources.

“There are no factories or industries here that can cause pollution... We have a clean environment,” said Amanullah Khan, a 60-year village elder in Passu.

“But when it comes to the threats posed by climate change, we are at the forefront.”

Asif Sakhi, a political activist from Passu, said mountain communities were increasingly fearful about the perils posed by glaciers.

“This area belongs to glaciers; we have occupied it,” the 32-year-old said. 


All eyes on Lahore as Pakistan take on England in series decider today

Updated 11 sec ago

All eyes on Lahore as Pakistan take on England in series decider today

  • Pakistan and England are level at 3-3 in the seven-match series so far
  • England beat Pakistan by 8 wickets in sixth T20 of the series on Friday

Islamabad: After six impressive T20 contests between Pakistan and England, both teams will look to vanquish the other and claim the series 4-3 in their favour as they collide in the series decider at the Gaddafi Stadium in Lahore today, Sunday. 

The last match on Friday ended on a dismal note for Pakistan, with the hosts losing by 8 wickets in a one-sided affair against a formidable England. Buoyed by skipper Babar Azam's emphatic unbeaten 87-run knock, the green shirts managed to put up 169/6 at the end of their 20 overs. 

Pakistani batters Iftikhar Ahmed (31 off 21) and Haider Ali (18 off 14) contributed to the scorecard somewhat while the others failed to impress as Pakistan's middle-order woes continued. 

When the time came for England to chase, Phil Salt unleashed a volley of sixes and fours on the Pakistani bowlers. He scored a thoroughly impressive unbeaten 88-run knock to surpass Azam's 87 while fellow opener Alex Hales contributed with 27 runs off 12 balls. 

Pakistan managed to pick up only two wickets, both claimed by vice-captain Shadab Khan. Khan ended up with figures of 2/34 after taking the prized scalps of Dawid Malan and Hales. 

Pakistan (probable): 1 Babar Azam (capt), 2 Mohammad Rizwan (wk), 3 Shan Masood, 4 Iftikhar Ahmed, 5 Khushdil Shah, 6 Asif Ali, 7 Mohammad Nawaz, 8 Shadab Khan, 9 Mohammad Hasnain/Aamer Jamal, 10 Mohammad Wasim, 11 Haris Rauf

England (probable): 1 Phil Salt (wk), 2 Alex Hales, 3 Dawid Malan, 4 Ben Duckett, 5 Harry Brook, 6 Moeen Ali (capt), 7 Sam Curran, 8 Chris Woakes, 9 Adil Rashid, 10 Mark Wood, 11 Reece Topley


Tehran seals border with Pakistan amid deadly crackdown in neighboring Iranian city

Updated 38 min 21 sec ago

Tehran seals border with Pakistan amid deadly crackdown in neighboring Iranian city

  • Iranian state media say number of IRGC and Basiji personnel killed in Zahedan rises to five
  • Local journalists and activists estimate at least 50 protesters killed by security forces

QUETTA: Iran sealed a main crossing point with Pakistan on Sunday amid deadly unrest and a crackdown on protesters in Zahedan, a southeastern Iranian city near the border.

Violence broke out in the capital of the Iranian Sistan and Balochistan province during Friday prayers, after worshipers in the city’s Makki Mosque called for a protest over the rape of a 15-year-old girl, allegedly by a local military commander.

Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps provincial intelligence chief Ali Mousavi was shot during the clashes on Friday and pronounced dead at a hospital.

The killing was claimed by the Jaish Al-Adl militant group, which says it is fighting for the independence of Sistan and Balochistan and greater rights for Baloch people, who are the main ethnic group in the province.

A Pakistani Federal Investigation Agency official told Arab News the border crossing in Taftan, about 90 km from Zahedan, was sealed off by Iranian authorities.

“They are not allowing departure movement from Pakistan into Iran,” he said on condition of anonymity as he was not authorized to speak to the media.

“On Saturday, they allowed 780 people, including foreigners who wanted to cross into Pakistan, but on Sunday they completely halted all kinds of trade and pedestrian movement.”

Sardarzada Umair Muhammad Hassani, former adviser to the chief minister of Pakistan’s Balochistan province said the border closure would affect Iran itself, as food supplies to Iran pass through Pakistan.

“The border closure decision by Iranian forces wasn’t fair in the better interest of Iran,” he told Arab News, adding that he had backtracked on his earlier opinion that Pakistani-Iranian ties should be enhanced, as the killings in Zahedan have affected the Baloch community on the Pakistani side.

“Baloch tribes have been living on both sides of the border,” Hassani said. “The recent brutality toward the people of Zahedan by the Iranian forces has hurt the sentiments and emotions of the Baloch.”

Footage emerging from the city showed people carrying dead and wounded protesters amid heavy gunfire. The administration of Sistan and Balochistan said 19 people have been killed in the clashes, but journalists in the province and activists estimate the number of deaths to be at least 50, as clashes continued.  

“According to local media in Zahedan, the death toll has risen to 50, because the majority of the injured who were shot by Iranian forces were being treated in their homes instead of hospitals due to fear of arrest by the Iranian forces,” Asif Burhanzai, a journalist in Taftan told Arab News.  

The Baloch Activists Campaign said at least 58 people have died and 270 were wounded.

Communication services were down in Zahedan and surrounding areas over the weekend. On Sunday, mobile networks were partially restored, but access to the internet remained blocked.
 
Iran’s Mehr News Agency reported on Sunday that the number of personnel from the IRGC and its volunteer force Basiji killed in Zahedan had risen to five.

Their and the provincial IRGC intelligence chief’s deaths are a major escalation in the antigovernment demonstrations that began in mid-September, triggered by the death of a 22-year-old woman, Mahsa Amini, in the custody of Iranian morality police.

IRGC chief Gen. Hossein Salami pledged revenge for the killing of its forces.

“We consider revenge for the blood of the IRGC and Basiji martyrs and the people who were victims of the Black Friday crime in Zahedan to be on our agenda,” he said, as quoted by Iran’s official news agency IRNA.

Ongoing countrywide demonstrations have been the largest manifestation of dissent against the Iranian government in over a decade.

Rallies have spread to all of Iran’s 31 provinces, with ethnic and religious minorities joining in, despite a violent response from authorities.

With the deaths in Sistan and Balochistan, the number of those killed in the protests is likely to have crossed 100.

On Friday, the Norway-based Iran Human Rights organization estimated the number of dead to be at least 83. Many more have been wounded and thousands arrested.


Government approves legal action against ex-PM, aides over audio leaks

Updated 48 min 17 sec ago

Government approves legal action against ex-PM, aides over audio leaks

  • Cabinet says audio leaks involving ex-PM ‘prejudicial to national interest’
  • Khan’s party welcomes government’s decision, says has nothing to hide

ISLAMABAD: The federal cabinet has formally given the go-ahead to hold an inquiry into the audio leaks purportedly featuring former Prime Minister Imran Khan and his top aides discussing a controversial cypher and take legal action against them, it emerged on Sunday.  

On Friday, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif’s cabinet constituted a special committee to probe the recent audio leaks that purportedly feature Khan and his aides discussing a cypher he has incessantly used to accuse the government of being involved in a “foreign conspiracy” to oust him from office.  

The matter once again became a topic of public debate after the emergence of another purported audio clip online on Friday, involving Khan, his then principal secretary Azam Khan and two top aides, Shah Mahmood Qureshi and Asad Umar. 

After its meeting on Friday, the cabinet expressed concern over the audio leaks and said it exposed the “criminal conspiracy” of former PM Khan and his government. The cabinet had called for a probe to bring its perpetrators to book.  

As per Cabinet Division documents dated October 1, a sub-committee constituted by the cabinet held its meeting on Friday and recommended the following: 

"It is a matter of national security, which is/was pre-judicial to national interest and needs legal action,” it said.  

“Therefore, the apex investigation agency (FIA) may be directed to inquire into the matter by constituting a team of senior officers, which may co-opt officers/officials from other intelligence agencies for the purpose, and to proceed further against the perpetrators in accordance with the law." 

The cabinet also demanded an implementation report on its suggestions immediately as per the document.  

Khan, ousted via a parliamentary vote of confidence in April, has accused the political parties that now form the government of being part of a Washington-backed conspiracy to remove him from power.  

Both Washington and the government of PM Sharif have denied the allegations.  

PTI leader Qureshi welcomed the cabinet’s decision, saying that Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party had nothing to hide.  

“We did not do anything which hurt Pakistan’s interests,” he said, adding the party had implemented recommendations from the National Security Committee and diplomatic circles by issuing demarche to Washington.  

 

“Imran Khan tried not to name [the country] but when you issue a demarche, then obviously the name of the country emerged,” he said. “The truth was revealed before the nation then.” 

Qureshi said Khan’s government had tried to present the cypher in the parliament so that its contents could be studied when it first emerged.  He questioned the government’s motive of ordering an inquiry into the cypher now when several months had passed.


Plenty of fish in the sea? Not for Sindh’s fishing communities, thanks to climate change 

Updated 02 October 2022

Plenty of fish in the sea? Not for Sindh’s fishing communities, thanks to climate change 

  • Hundreds of families from Keti Bandar, elsewhere in Sindh migrated to Karachi’s Rehri Goth over past couple of years 
  • But lack of fish along Karachi’s coastal belt makes matters worse for fisherfolk reeling from skyrocketing inflation 

KARACHI: With a forlorn expression on his face, 35-year-old Aijaz Abbasi anxiously waits for his wife to return to their small, rented house so she can cook a meal for him and their two children. Life was much easier for him when he used to fish for a living in a small town some 150 kilometers away from Pakistan’s southern port city of Karachi, but the climate-induced coastal floods forced the family to flee to a safer area four months ago. 
There’s just one problem here though: there aren’t plenty of fish in the sea due to the effects of climate change and ruthless trawling. 
Hundreds of families like Abbasi’s face a similar conundrum after migrating to the coastal town of Rehri Goth from Keti Bandar, some 153.8 kilometers from Karachi, as well as from seaside villages in Thatta, Badin and Sujawal districts over the past couple of years. 

Aijaz Abbasi, 35, waits for his wife Hameeda to return from the factory to cook a meal for her ailing husband and two children at their home in Rehri Goth, Karachi, September 2, 2022.  (AN Photo/S.A. Babar) 

With rent to pay each month, scarce resources and a mounting electricity bill, the trauma proved too much for Abbasi to handle. 
“I would go fishing in my hometown. But then, the rising sea level and floods forced us to leave our homes,” Abbasi told Arab News. 

“I went fishing but experienced a stroke as I was struggling to earn here due to a decline in fishing.” 
His wife, Hameeda, makes a meagre Rs15,000 ($65.66) per month from her job at a garment factory. Of that, the family only has Rs5,000 ($21.89) left for this month. 

Abdul Latif Abbasi sits in a one-room space in Rehri Goth, Karachi, September 2, 2022. After seawater submerged his ancestral home in Keti Bandar, he was forced to leave for Rerhi Goth nine months ago (AN Photo/S.A. Babar)

Next door, 55-year-old Abdul Latif Abbasi faces a similar problem. For nearly a century, his family would catch fish to live a modest life in Keti Bandar. Nine months ago, rising seawater submerged Latif’s ancestral home, forcing him to move to Rehri Goth. 
He too complained that there wasn’t much catch in the area compared to his hometown. Latif has hardly gone fishing in the 270 days he has stayed in Rehri Goth. 

A young girl walks through a narrow street in Rehri Goth, a coastal village in Pakistan’s port city, carrying a stack of wooden sticks, September 2, 2022 (AN Photo/S.A. Babar) 

“Life was great there, we would earn, eat and enjoy our time,” Latif told Arab News, “Here if we have food to eat for one time, the next [time] we starve.” 
Coastal flooding is a huge threat to the livelihood of these communities across the country. To make both ends meet, Latif’s wife Jamila and daughter Iram work at a factory in the nearby Qur’angi industrial zone to earn a combined sum of Rs20,000 ($87.68) a month. 
Latif, his wife and their five children live in a small rented space that includes a room, a kitchen and a bathroom that costs them Rs5,000 ($21.92). Additionally, the family has to pay for electricity charges and for two meals a day. 
Latif’s youngest daughter Kiran, 15, works in the shabby kitchen and takes care of the household chores, while her mother and elder sister work at the factory. 
Kiran spends most part of her day here, washing utensils and making rotis (round flatbread) for the family. It is like her own little space in the house. 

Kiran, 15, makes rotis for the family while her mother and sister toil at the factory during the day. She stays at home in Rehri Goth, Karachi, September 2, 2022 (AN Photo/S.A. Babar) 


“I couldn’t continue my studies after we moved out from Keti Bandar due to financial reasons,” she told Arab News. “I used to attend school and madressah there with friends; I didn’t want to move out but my parents asked for it.” 
Situated on a dune with a high-tension power transmission line passing overhead, this littered Khaskheli Mohala neighborhood houses families who have lost almost everything to the disastrous impact of climate change. Wandering through these narrow, congested streets, one can spot children playing in the dirt. 
A poor drainage system ensures living spaces in the area are not clean and results in accumulation of contaminated water in the neighborhood. 
A lot of migration has taken place to Rerhi Goth and Ibrahim Hyderi, another fishing village in Karachi, with people arriving from Thatta, Badin and Sajawal districts. But these districts do not offer enough employment opportunities. 
Over 150 families migrated to Rehri Goth from Keti Bandar and nearby localities in the last couple of years, according to local activist Nawaz Dablo. 

Boats stand at the sea, awaiting the right time for the catch in Ibrahim Hyderi, a fishing village in the Karachi’s Korangi District, September 2, 2022.  (AN Photo/S.A. Babar) 

Of them, around 70 families moved over the last few months after the recent floods. Since Ibrahim Hyderi cannot accommodate more people, those arriving are instead settling in Rehri Goth and adjacent neighborhoods. There is ample water, electricity and gas available for them here. 
“Fishermen and farmers become a major target of climate change,” Abdul Majeed Motani, leader of the Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum (PFF), told Arab News. 
“Earlier, August 15 onwards, it used to be a good season for fishing for three months straight. It used to be smooth and [fish were found] in good quantity throughout this period. However, for the last three-four years, September remains cold and rainy which has severely affected the catch.” 
He said residents of coastal areas were struggling to make ends meet, given their lack of income due to rising inflation and increasing expenses. Even though authorities talk about generating environment-friendly energy, Motani said no measures had been taken in this regard. 

Residents cause more damage to the community by throwing garbage in the open, causing a serious threat to people’s health residing in Rehri Goth, Karachi, September 2, 2022 (AN Photo/S.A. Babar) 

Air and sea pollution has been increasing due to factory sewage, boilers and wastage, Motani said, blaming the Sindh forest and environment departments for not taking measures to counter the impact of climate change. 
“The residents also do not realize the damage they are doing to the community by throwing garbage in the open, they have become immune to it,” he added. 
The Sindh Forest Department did not respond to Arab News’ request for a comment. 
Fatima Majeed, an activist and leader of the Aurat March movement in Karachi, told Arab News women had been severely impacted by the effects of climate change. 
“If we look at the history of fishing around 60-70 years back, women were involved in the process with their male counterparts. Women were engaged in multiple vocations and were more empowered than they are today,” Majeed said. 

Child collects waste from wet soil absorbed with contaminated water in Rehri Goth, Karachi, September 2, 2022 (AN Photo/S.A. Babar) 

She said climate change had caused sea levels to rise and affected livelihoods in a major way. 
“When earning from the sea was good, it led to better income opportunities for women too — they used to make pickles and sell other food items,” she said. “However, now several factors such as sea pollution, cutting of mangroves and overfishing have contributed to lack of employment opportunities associated with fishing.” 
Women prefer working at factories that pay them better than what they get for their independent efforts, Majeed explained. She said some work at flats and homes while a few young women also work with NGOs. 
Hamida Siddiqui, another 65-year-old resident of Rehri Goth, holds up a small plastic bag containing no more than three potatoes and an equal number of onions. 
 “With the rising inflation and major decrease in earnings from the sea, life has become quite difficult for us,” she tells Arab News. “We can’t even afford to buy vegetables.”


Saudi Arabia’s KSRelief continues humanitarian efforts in flood-hit Pakistan

Updated 02 October 2022

Saudi Arabia’s KSRelief continues humanitarian efforts in flood-hit Pakistan

  • A KSRelief team on Friday distributed 2,095 food baskets, 40 tents and 400 mosquito nets
  • Aid comes within the Saudi Relief Land Bridge, directed by King Salman, to support Pakistan

Riyadh: Saudi Arabia’s King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Center (KSRelief) is continuing its efforts to provide humanitarian aid to flood-hit Pakistan, the Saudi Press Agency (SPA) reported on Saturday.

The team distributed 2,095 food baskets, 40 tents, and 400 mosquito nets in various provinces to 14,665 people on Friday, according to SPA. 

Flood-affected people carry Saudi King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Center relief aid in Pakistan on October 2, 2022. (SPA)

The aid comes within the Saudi Relief Land Bridge, directed by King Salman, to support Pakistan and its people following the disastrous floods that struck the country. 

Flood-affected people carry Saudi King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Center relief aid in Pakistan on October 2, 2022. (SPA)

The torrential rains and flooding, which began in mid-June and lasted for weeks, has killed over 1,600 people and affected nearly 33 million people in Pakistan.