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Booni, In Urgent Need of Attention -letter

Chitral -- 28th of July will be remembered for a long time by the people of Booni. A day when almost all of them were emotionally crippled with no option left than to wait for what Mother Nature has so mercilessly brought to them. There are still rumors circling in the area, which are adding to the anxiety of people of Chitral in general and Booni in particular. The people neither know the behavior of the glaciers nor have they ever felt the need to study them. The only knowledge that local people have about glaciers is extracted from assorted gossips and rumors that are always making rounds in the community circles.

This beautiful landscape has been like a mother for us, the people of Booni. We have not been exposed to such natural calamities as the glacial flood attack of July 28th and 29th. Up till now our major concerns have been occasional unavailability of drinking water, torrential rains for a few days, snowfall in October or March, a trimmed electric transformer or trivial issues like colder than usual summers or winters. Land sliding is almost unheard of in this part of Chitral and earthquakes have hardly pushed a few people out of their homes. I still remember the replies of my mother, “Ae zhao ish kya mamila no boi la poray ki” (nothing will happen my son, you better sleep), whenever I urged her to come out during high intensity earthquakes. To sum up, nature has always taken good care of us in this beautiful and peaceful village.

However, some of this changed on 25th July when water, not too immense in quantity, started flowing into Booni Gole from the glacial outburst. In Booni, the Gujars played a commendable job by alerting the people well in-advance. Yes! The Gujars! Not the local administration. Heeding the advice, people of Booni did make the timely evacuation, for which they deserve their due credit. The glacial outburst had its first attack approximately at 13:30 hrs on 28th followed by two massive flushes approximately at 1830 hrs and 0200 hrs. For people of Booni, who have always considered their magnificent landscape as their ultimate protector as well as guardian, this was the worst nightmare that we could have ever imagined. For us, our village has always been like a heavenly abode which always offered its loving arms for us no matter how difficult the circumstances. By the grace of Almighty Allah this looming threat, which could have created an unprecedented devastation, retreated except for torrential floods and life, at least for now, is back to normal.

Glacial outbursts are common across the globe. These gigantic water bodies are formed in various ways under different conditions. Scattered and smaller bodies of liquid water exist in the main body and floor of the glacier. These en-glacial and sub-glacial water bodies, with the passage of time, form a larger lake at the bed of the glacier or a sub-glacial lake. Lakes are also formed on the surface of the glaciers when they start melting. Earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, breakages within the glacier, development of high pressure in water lakes inside the glaciers and many other reasons can lead to a sudden and at times catastrophic drain of these massive lakes blindly into nearby streams and water channels. Better understanding of the phenomena underlying the creation of these water bodies is basic to developing a monitoring and forecasting system. These water bodies can be drained prematurely before they transform to huge glacial tides. Technology can be put to use for putting in place a regular monitoring and forecasting mechanism. There are hundreds of glaciers in the world that are supervised round the clock to avoid any mishap.

Although, we are all well aware of the excellent development and humanitarian services that FOCUS has been providing in our area for a long time, on this occasion a timely release of its findings immediately after the study of glacial flush would have addressed a lot apprehensions of ours. Detailed analysis covering the root causes, risks and precautionary measures should be done on priority and findings of this analysis should be made public. In this technological era we need to have an effective monitoring and forecasting system instead of relying on prophecies and directions of Gujars (shepherds), which seem to be our only source of information about glacial movements. Locals should be trained and modern engineering technology should be put to use for monitoring the glaciers as is done in other countries in the world. Detailed analysis of the glaciers in other parts of Chitral must also be done in order to avoid unforeseen calamities. We the people of Booni must now put the safety of Booni as our top demand. All along Booni Gole, areas where embankments are weak, there is a need to build stronger and higher reinforcements. Moreover, now is the time for us to unite and unanimously demand that picnic spots of Shipishun and Qaqlasht be developed as residential areas for the people of Booni. The political leaders, for whom Booni has always been a major vote bank, must now join us in our demand for an international standard monitoring and forecasting system for Booni glacier. FOCUS, United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), World Glacier Monitoring Service or International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) can also provide the resources and expertise for installation of such a monitoring mechanism. We also need to put in our human and financial resource, individually as well as collectively, to ensure safety of our beloved homeland right from now. Booni, a place which we all are proud of, needs us more than ever before. We should not sit back and relax, because as time and tide wait for none so does the melting glaciers and the dreadful flushes in the stream. --Engr Tanveer Ali Khan Booni, Chitral, 10 Aug 2010


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