Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Mountain lakes bursting in the Allai Mountains

The catastrophic collapse of the walls of high mountain lakes at the foot of glaciers, or sometime underneath glaciers, has caused a huge loss of life throughout history. Here is one example I was involved in in 1998 in Central Asia and saw the effects of similar ones in Afghanistan.

Five to six hundred people are still missing and feared dead, and many more are homeless after the Ak Su and Shahimardan rivers burst their banks on the Kyrgyzstan/Uzbekistan border on the night of 8 July 1998.
At least 90 deaths have been confirmed by authorities in Uzbekistan and at least a dozen in Kyrgyzstan. The waters swept away homes, bridges and power supplies in the Fergana Valley catching people as they lay sleeping in their beds.
The Red Crescent Society of Uzbekistan (RCSU) reported only 43 bodies have been identified. The remainder are believed to be holidaymakers who will be difficult to trace. More than 400 people have had their homes swept away and have lost everything. The Kyrgyzstan Red Crescent Society (KRCS) reported 100 people were left homeless when their houses were destroyed with another 100 whose houses were partly damaged.
KRCS and RCSU officials were amongst the first assistance to arrive on the scene. They organised temporary accommodation in schools and other institutions in the area for those left homeless and are also supplying bedding and clothes as well as psychological assistance. A Federation relief coordinator is in the affected area and the Federation has released 30,000 Swiss francs from its Disaster Response Emergency Fund (DREF).
The funds are being used to buy food for the flood victims, shoes and hygiene materials such as soap and detergent. The flooding occurred when a high mountain lake at the foot of the Allaudin Glacier in the Alai mountains of Kyrgyzstan could no longer contain the enormous volume of water from melting snow. The affected area, south of the city of Fergana, straddles the border and includes an Uzbek enclave within Kyrgyzstan.
The region is remote and mountainous, making access and communications extremely difficult. Whilst the emergency has probably reached its peak, the rivers have not yet shown signs of abating. "This is a continuing problem in the highland areas of Central Asia. The rocks crumble easily. A large build up of moraines at the end of the glacier retains water until the ice holding them together melts. This winter we have had particularly heavy snowfalls and now the weather is very hot. There are no longer government funds to support monitoring stations in the mountains which would have provided a warning. In these circumstances, we may have many more of these floods." said Bob McKerrow, Head of the Federation Regional Delegation in Almaty, a mountaineer and expert in mountain systems.

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