Friday, May 14, 2010

Hunza lake may burst its banks, Met office warns

LAHORE: The Flood Forecasting Division of the Pakistan Meteorological Department warned on Wednesday that the lake created in Hunza valley by a massive landslide in January could be breached at any time because water was continuously flowing into it.

In an advisory issued to all government departments, the division said that appropriate measures should be taken as quickly as possible to deal with the threat.

The problem should be resolved by May 25. “Otherwise, there will be overflow of water. The resulting chain reaction may also damage Tarbela dam,” Dawn news quoted head of the division, Hazrat Mir, as saying.

The FFD had issued a similar warning on March 31, urging authorities to take immediate measures to avert any catastrophe.
According to the latest advisory prepared by Mr Mir, the Indus flows are mainly based on the glacier/snowmelt contribution and the Hunza River, on which the dam has been formed, is one of the major contributors to the flows.

Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) chief Altaf Hussain has announced immediate financial assistance of Rs 1 million for the affected people of Hunza Gojal, a press release issued by the MQM said on Wednesday. It said that he had also directed the MQM Rabita Committee to immediately dispatch eatables and other relief goods for the affected people.
With an increase in temperature, the snowmelt rises very rapidly and the average discharge at Dinyore downstream Attabad, jumps from 6,000 cusecs during May to 20,000 cusecs during June, and to 40,641 cusecs during July.

The latest report by the NDMA (National Disaster Management Authority) indicates that the discharge these days is more than 2,300 cusecs and the level of the lake is 320 feet at Attabad.

The present rise in the level of the lake due to this is approximately 3 feet per day which will reach 5 feet per day in the near future. With this rate of rise in level the situation may become critical soon.

In its earlier advisory on March 3, the FFD had indicated that blasting by the KKH (Karakoram Highway) constructors might have caused cracks in the mountain slopes which gave way due to an earthquake, blocking the Hunza River.

It had said the natural lakes created in the hilly areas due to landslides posed a major threat to the localities situated downstream. This threat was proportional to the value of water contained in the lakes.

Meanwhile, some residents of Gilgit-Baltistan said that overflowing of water from the lake at Attabad would be devastating for the people of the area.

Speaking at a news conference at the Lahore Press Club, Baba Jan, a former member of the District Council, Gilgit, and others said the time was running out fast. The water level had reached dangerous levels.

It was now time for people to be evacuated from the area, they added.

They said the lake which had already caused a lot of damage to the region was bound to affect tourism resort Gulmat Gojal in a day or two, damaging hundreds of houses, three main hotels, several orchards and agriculture land.

36 villages under threat after Hunza lake breach

HUNZA: Some 36 villages are feared to be inundated after a breach in the artificially formed lake of Hunza in Attaabad following a continuous raise in its water level, media reported. The Frontier Works Organisation is creating a spillway to drain the lake.

The Federal Disaster Management Authority has catered temporary settlement for 2.5 million people embracing a possible flood in the area. Brigadier Sajid Naeem, Director Operations of the authority, says the government has chalked out a master plan to address the flood threat, adding that the evacuation of area people to safer places was underway. He said relief camps had been set up for the purpose as a precautionary measure against the flood. The population has been evacuated with the help of the FDMA as well as Provincial Disaster Management Authority (PDMA), officials said.

Also, the Chief of Army Staff (COAS), General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani on Thursday visited the site of landslide that blocked Hunza River near Attaabad. He was briefed about the progress of work on spillways, being undertaken by Frontier Works Organization. COAS appreciated the efforts being made by Frontier Works Organization for safe restoration of Hunza River. He also interacted with the people of affected area. Earlier on arrival in the area, COAS was received by Lieutenant General Shahid Niaz, Engineer-in-Chief and Lieutenant General Tahir Mehmood, Corps Commander Rawalpindi.

On the other hand, President Asif Ali Zardari on Tuesday sought a report from Governor Gilgit Baltistan over the relief and rehabilitation measures for the landslide affectees of the Hunza valley and steps for draining the lake. President Zardari who had been in touch with the local authorities and had directed immediate relief and rehabilitation measures on January 4 and March 8, enquired about the progress made so far and emergency measures in case the artificial dam bursts.

The President asked the Gilgit Baltistan administration to provide an immediate update and progress on the latest situation as the water in the lake continues to rise and poses a threat to the people downstream. He assured that the federal government would do all to provide shelter, food and medical help for the displaced people through the National Disaster Management Authority.

On Monday, Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani, expressing concern over the situation directed Mian Manzoor Ahmad Wattoo, Minister for Kashmir Affairs and Gilgit-Baltistan to personally visit the area and assess the situation. He asked Wattoo to examine the problems of affected people and adopt immediate measures to give relief to them.

Blame game continues as Attabad lake floods

GILGIT: Gilgit-Baltistan Chief Minister Mehdi Shah has blamed the PML-Q for the Attabad tragedy, saying that the party should be questioned for ignoring the issue when it first surfaced during its government.

The statement comes as the artificial lake in Attaabad area of Hunza submerges a huge portion of the strategic Karakorum Highway (KKH) and threatens several downstream villages. On January 4 a massive landslide had blocked the flow of the Hunza River, forming an artificial lake and submerging several villages and a huge portion of the KKH. At least 20 people were also killed in the tragedy. The artificial lake continues to expand, threatening several more downstream villages.

“The PML-Q should be questioned for the Attabad disaster which first surfaced in 2003 when the party was in power,” Chief Minister Shah said, adding that if the then government had taken steps on time, the tragedy could have been avoided. “We are in contact with the people of Hunza and Gojal,” he said, adding that nearby villages were not being evacuated. “It is too early to evacuate people from these villages,” he added. “They will be shifted to safe places only if it becomes necessary.”

The chief minister expressed satisfaction over the pace of relief activities in Gojal and Hunza Valley. “The situation is under control. People should not panic,” he said of the relief work at Attabad where the construction of a spillway is about to be completed. Chief Minister Shah said that they had adequate stock of medicines and ration to deal with an emergency-like situation. He once again ruled out the possibility of the lake suddenly bursting its banks. “Huge boulders buried under tons of mud will not let it happen,” he claimed.

Meanwhile a huge portion of the Karakoram Highway (KKH) near Gulmit Town was submerged on Wednesday after inflow of water increased in the Attabad artificial lake. FOCUS Pakistan, an agency of the Aga Khan Development Network, the Pakistan Army and the District Government are jointly monitoring the artificial lake on a daily basis. This according to a press release issued in Karachi on Wednesday. According to the monitoring team, the lake is now 320 feet deep and 17 kilomtres long.

Approximately 90 families of Ainabad and Shishkat villages have been displaced and hundreds of acres of agricultural land have been destroyed due to the lake. The lake has started submerging houses in Gulmit, the largest settlement and headquarters of Gojal tehsil, as the water level is rising fast. A family of six has been moved from this area to a safer location. This situation is also threatening more than 30 such families and other shops, small hotels, bank offices and other commercial offices in the area, which are expected to submerge in the lake in the next few weeks. A 20 kilometre long stretch of the Karakorum Highway between Gulmit, Ghulkin and Hussaini villages is also in danger of being submerged.

Modern electric sirens have been installed at potentially vulnerable locations in Hunza, Nagar and Gilgit district to immediately inform the local communities of any flooding risk caused by the overtopping of the lake. In some villages, megaphones have been distributed for early warning purposes. To assist the local population, all vulnerable areas of district Hunza, Nagar and Gilgit have been marked as red and green zones according to their respective levels of vulnerability.

Green zones are relatively safe locations at 60 metres above the river bed, as proposed by experts. Community stockpiles comprising tents, tarpaulins, blankets and other necessary items have also been established in safe havens by FOCUS Pakistan, to enable the communities to survive in an emergency situation.

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