GLOF Part 2-Call For Innovations

Aug 15th, 2011 | By | Category: Advocacy, Climatic Changes in Himalayas, Flood, Glaciers, India, M-20 CAMPAIGN, Opinion, Youth Speak

Pabitra MukhopadhyayPabitra Mukhopadhyay: When it becomes clear that the increasing risk of GLOFs is the outcome of a global trend in climate change and when it is known that the Hindu Kush Himalayan Region has far too many retreating glaciers leaving far too many glacial lakes that may turn into GLOFs, two realities emerge:

  1.  No single engineering/technological intervention can solve the problem.
  2. When you cannot beat it you have to live with it – the best possible way.

The first makes any high carbon technology like pumping out water through huge tunneling and pumping projects like Saint-Gervais-les-Bains in France by Mont Blanc, impractical for HKHR. The second brings us to the more practical aspect of risk reduction and mitigation measures for GLOFs.

The most important aspect of risk reduction and mitigation measures is the understanding of the scale and geophysics behind formation of GLOFs. There had been substantial work in this field by international communities and valuable insights can be gleaned from those works, some of which I referred in my GLOF Part 1 post. But these studies and recommendations will not likely bear fruits unless the knowledge disseminates down to people at the grass roots or in other words for the best remedy of GLOF related hazards can only be achieved if monitoring, observing, networking and maintaining early warning systems is made community based activities of day to day lives. I see a very important role of platforms like Climate Himalaya as an interface between the scientific communities of the world and indigenous communities of the Himalayas.

The next most important and a bit less discussed aspect of the risk reduction and mitigation measures is the encouragement of the community wisdom and local innovations. Incentivizing such actions, in my opinion, can enable magnificent life changing experiences in the Hills. In this context, the GEF sponsored project for Lake Thorthormi in Bhutan can be an eye opener for everybody.


This is real people power and fresh beacon of hope in a world of endless seminars and policy bickering. I reckon this to be a true human response to an adversity posed by nature.

There is also another interesting line of thinking which I am very keen to know if other thinkers and experts have considered. All the high altitude glacial lakes are located in arid, if not cold desert, areas where supply of water for agriculture is an issue. If I am not wrong, the terraced cultivation patters of the Himalayas are almost entirely rain fed and therefore subject to climatic variability which, trends show, are becoming increasingly uncertain.  I find it quite ironical that within this setting the Glacial Lakes sit with high storage of water and threaten us with possible devastation. Are we missing a blessing in disguise?

Leaving aside cryoseismic or geoseismic reasons, the most obvious cause of a GLOF is a moraine collapse under hydrostatic pressure and such failure is due to lack of drainage of accumulated water in the lake. While draining the lakes through moraines is mentioned as one of the mitigation measures in ICIMOD paper “Formation of Glacial lakes in Hindu Kush Himalayas and GLOF Risk Assessment”, I have yet to come across any study or project where such ‘leeching’ of Glacial Lakes are directly connected with irrigation and agriculture. When draining of glacial lakes have such local incentives, we can likely turn the dice from a defensive to a beneficial approach and risk mitigation can take on a self sustaining mode.

Ants then will eat the dead elephant when jackals have given up.

This will call for innovation by the hill people and I am sure they will not be short on support and advice by world communities.  And I shall refuse to accept that the soils of the Hill cannot foster such innovation. We have already seen it.


About Author: Pabitra Mukhopadhyay has written this article for Climate Himalaya ’s Youth Leaders Speak Column. Pabitra is an environment enthusiast and amateur blogger and keen to network with everyone with active interest on issues related to the Himalayas.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are personal and do not necessarily reflect the views of Climate Himalaya Initiative’s team.


Started in year 2010, ‘Climate Himalaya’ initiative has been working on Mountains and Climate linked issues in the Himalayan region of South Asia. In the last five years this knowledge sharing portal has become one of the important references for the governments, research institutions, civil society groups and international agencies, those have work and interest in the Himalayas. The Climate Himalaya team innovates on knowledge sharing, capacity building and climatic adaptation aspects in its focus countries like Bhutan, India, Nepal and Pakistan. Climate Himalaya’s thematic areas of work are mountain ecosystem, water, forest and livelihood. Read>>

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