Funds hampering work to contain lake bursts

Pradeep Mool, a remote sensing expert with the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD), said today work is under way to lower the water levels of Tsho Rolpa Lake, a critical glacial lake, pinpointed by on the ground surveys and new satellite images.

As a result of the melting of a nearby glacier, the lake has grown six-fold, from 0.23 sq. km. in the late 1950s to 1.4 sq km today.

“A flood from this lake could cause serious damage down to the village of Tribeni, which is 108km downstream, threatening about 10,000 human lives, thousands of livestock, agricultural land, bridges and other infrastructure,” said Mool.

A high tech communications network of sensors and sirens has been linked from the lake to villages at risk from floodwaters. Engineering work is underway to lower the water levels at Tsho Rolpa by 30 metres.

Experts say money is urgently needed to carry out similar work on scores of other glacial lakes if catastrophes are to be averted.

In August 1985, a sudden outburst from the Dig Tsho glacial lake in Nepal destroyed 14 bridges and $1.5 million worth of damage was caused to the Namche small hydropower plant.

The new research, announced here on Friday, began in 1999 and is based on topographic maps, aerial photographs and satellite images from Landsat, Spot and IRS craft, according to the United Nations Information Centre.

Nearly 50 lakes in the Himalayas could burst their banks, sending millions of gallons of deadly floodwaters swirling down valleys, putting at risk tens of thousands of lives, scientists have warned.

The lakes are rapidly filling with icy water as rising temperatures in the region accelerate the melting of glaciers and snowfields that feed them.

Date from 49 monitoring stations in Nepal reveals a clear increase in temperature since the mid-1970s, with highest temperatures found at higher altitudes.

The survey has identified 3,252 glaciers and 2,323 glacial lakes in Nepal and 677 glaciers and 2,674 glacial lakes in Bhutan.

On average, air temperatures here are one degree Celsius higher than in the 1970s, rising by 0.06 degrees per year.

It is not just people who are at risk but many millions of dollars worth of property, tourism facilities, trekking trails, roads, bridges and hydroelectric plants, which are the economic lifeblood of many countries in the region.

Scientists from United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) and the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) have found at least 44 glacial lakes that are filling so rapidly that are filling so rapidly they could burst their banks in as little as five year’s time.

Surendra Shrestha, regional coordinator in Asia for UNEP’s division of early warning and assessment, cited findings indicated that 20 glacial lakes in Nepal and 24 in Bhutan have become potentially dangerous as a result of the climate change.