Locals advocate ‘glacier marriages’ amid climate change concerns in Pakistan

By Amjad Ali

Islamabad, May 31 (EFE).- The impact of global warming and climate change in Pakistan has caused unusual rain patterns, rising temperatures, drought, and growing instances of a sudden, sometimes deadly, outburst of torrents of glacial water coursing downstream from the mountains.

Earlier this month, flooding from the Shisper glacier washed away over a dozen houses, a key bridge, and many other properties in Hassanabad village of Hunza valley, in the northern Gilgit-Baltistan region, marking the latest incident of Glacial Lake Outburst Flood (GLOF).

Such incidents occur without warning and often release millions of cubic meters of water and debris, leading to the loss of lives, property, and livelihoods in the high mountain ranges.

Pakistan is home to more than 7,000 glaciers – the highest after the North and South poles – in the northern mountain ranges of the Hindu Kush, Himalayas, and the Karakorum, climate ministry data showed.

Due to a rise in temperatures, glaciers have been melting rapidly, and 3,044 glacial lakes have developed in the region, of which 33 are prone to GLOF, posing existential threats to the lives and properties of over seven million people, the ministry data showed.

“Gilgit-Baltistan which is also famous as the third pole because of its glaciers is most-affected by climate change in Pakistan and no one is paying attention,” Zakir Hussain, a climate expert at the University of Baltistan, told EFE.

While climate experts have expressed alarm and called for immediate measures, local communities and experts in the affected areas have also advocated performing a centuries-old ritual of the “wedding of glaciers” to give birth to new glaciers to combat the rising temperatures.

Hussain referred to it as an ancient grafting method, shrouded in both technique and ritual, to help nurture new glaciers.

According to locals, glaciers are living entities and are either male or female. Male glaciers are gray, having a lot of debris, while female glaciers are shiny white or blue.

The “wedding” requires villagers to take a piece from the male and female glaciers, put them together in a cave or pit in the mountains, and cover it with mud or stones.

Hussain said after 10 or 12 years, a new glacier is born.

A 2019 study released by International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development revealed that at least a third of the glaciers in the Hindu Kush and Himalaya ranges would melt due to climate change.

It would have consequences for billions of people who live near the mountain ranges in Pakistan, India, China, and Nepal, among other countries.

Pakistan is heavily dependent on the glacier-fed Indus River, which serves as a lifeline for its 220 million people as the source of water for irrigation.

The country also suffers from water scarcity, and if the glaciers continue to melt at such a pace, the crisis could worsen.

Pakistan’s contribution to global emissions is less than one percent, but it is among the top 10 most-vulnerable countries to climate change.

“Glacier melting is a climate catastrophe we are facing at the moment,” Minister for Climate Change Sherry Rehman told EFE.

Experts call for a long-term strategy to stop GLOFs and minimize glacial lake flooding.

“Climate Change is no longer a danger of the future, it is of today,” the minister said. EFE

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