The picturesque upper Swat was profoundly affected by climate change in 2022. The time when the Glacial Lake Outburst Floods (Glofs) ravaged the area. This created a sad narrative of despair and devastation.
The calamitous occurrences transpired atop the high glacial peaks. This encompassed the communities of Kamar Khwa, Serai, Badai, Mankiyal, Utror, Palogah, Matilitan, and Gbral. These Calamatious occurences caused extensive devastation.
The catastrophic floods destroyed more than 200 houses, vast tracts of agricultural land, expansive pastures, mosques, watermills, microhydropower stations, irrigation channels and every bridge connecting the valley’s villages.
Locals said that the last flood was unprecedented, accompanied by enormous glaciers and boulders that destroyed everything in its course.
According to Kifayatullah, a resident of Palogah in the Matiltan region, the entire village was inundated by flood water in 2010 and 2022. “The devastation encompassed an estimated eighty dwellings, 30 small restaurants and hotels, and more than 20 stores,” he said, adding that the inhabitants felt utterly helpless after the floods.
Bilal Khan, a resident of Kamar Khwa sitting on the boulders near his village, said that the 2022 floods washed away his entire village, comprising 60 houses. “Fortunately, we took refuge on higher ground and were unharmed, but the floodwaters wiped away all of our houses, cattle, and pastures,” he said.
He said that villagers constructed houses in another pasture. “It is good that a protection wall has been constructed under the Glof-II project, due to which we feel safe now,” he added.
A ray of hope appeared with the implementation of the “Scaling-up Glacial Lake Outburst Floods (Glof-II) in Northern Pakistan” initiative, which was funded by the Green Climate Fund and implemented by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) through the Ministry of Climate Change.
Under the project, so far, 6,000-foot-long protection walls have been built in Lower Chitral, Upper Chitral, Upper Dir and Swat districts. It has also constructed 40 irrigation channels, five centers for community-based disaster risk management committees and slop stabilization on 137 hectares.
Rashid Khan, a representative of the Glof-II initiative, said that Matiltan, Palogah, Gabral, Utror, and Mankial, among other areas in Swat, were identified as vulnerable to Glof. He said that approximately 20 Glof events transpired in 2017 and 43 in 2018. Incredible as it may seem, there were 83 Glof events in 2023.
He said that such occurrences were expected to increase in frequency over the next few years. “We must be ready for the unavoidable,” he added.
Rashid Khan said that a multifaceted project was being implemented as part of the Glof-II initiative to safeguard and restore the impacted communities. In the flood-affected regions, efforts were undertaken to establish protective infrastructure, including safe havens, slope stabilization, protection walls, irrigation channels, and community-based disaster risk management committees.
“Additionally, awareness sessions are being conducted with the local community so that people may understand climate change and its impacts,” he said.
An essential element of the undertaking involves the implementation of early warning systems. “In each valley, equipment will be installed at lower and higher altitudes,” he said.
He said that despite the recent calamity that affected Mankiyal and other areas, the Glof-II initiative provided a semblance of optimism.
In light of the ongoing environmental transformations caused by climate change, the people of Upper Swat believe that they are in a dangerous struggle for survival in isolation. Local and international organizations must work together to alleviate the devastation caused by these catastrophic events.