Nepali Times
If this is what a small glacial lake  flood can do, imagine a big one


Humla is one of the most remote districts in Nepal, and in a remote corner of Humla lies the settlement of Halji in Limi VDC. On 30 June this village of 400 inhabitants was hit by a flash flood caused by a glacial lake bursting upstream.

Glacier snout that hides a lake beneath the ice.

Collapsed icefall that triggered the glacial lake burst.

At around 4:30 pm there was a loud roar from up the valley, and everyone ran out of their houses. At first, the raging brown water was retained by the gabion walls, the last stretch of which was built only a month earlier. Soon, the embankments gave way and the water and the boulders raced towards the village with great force.

The ground shook and the water was nearly black because of the landslides along the banks. People managed to evacuate in time and move most of their belongings, but had to watch as their homes and fields were carried away.

Meltpools downstream from the glacier.

Fortunately no lives were lost, but some livestock was taken by the flood as were two houses and 200 ropanis of farmlands. Some poorer families lost all their fields. Food aid will therefore be needed for the winter. Water mills, bridges and sections of the main trail through the valley and up to high pastures were washed away.

The disaster was caused by a glacial lake outburst flood (GLOF) in the mountains above Halji. Due to global warming the water level of many glacial lakes across the Himalaya have risen dangerously, and could overflow with devastating consequences. The flood at Halji which is the fifth since 2006 has occurrs every year on almost the same date at the end of June.

The flood thunders down the Limi Valley.

Arrives at the village and takes away houses …

The glacier lies on a plateau at 5,200-5,400m on the flanks of Mt Gurla Mandata in Tibet and there are five glacial lakes which feed into the river. But the flood was caused by another lake hidden under the glacier which is partly visible through a deep crevasse. Villagers who climbed the glacier just after the flood in 2009 say the lake was partly covered by a big ice sheet about 20-25 meters thick. Parts of this may have broken off and fallen into the lake last month, displacing huge amounts of water and causing the flood.

Halji village is constructed around the 11th century Rinchenling Monastery, one of the oldest in Nepal and a potential World Heritage Site. Because of the valley's scenic beauty and location on the pilgrimage path to Mount Kailash at the very end of the Great Himalayan Trail, it is also becoming an increasingly popular destination for trekkers. The village and its 1,000-year-old monastery are now threatened by future floods.

…and farmlands.

The flood has altered the riverbed, threatening Halji village and its 1,000-year-old monastery.

There is an urgent need to provide food and rebuild the homes of affected families, as well as to rehabilitate and strengthen the embankments before the next flood. Experts should also assess the risk of future outbursts of the glacial lake and develop a long term strategy to minimise the risks of a future, even bigger, disaster. Long term mitigation strategies may involve controlled drainage of the lake, building of further gabion walls to protect farmlands downstream by diverting water away from the village.

Astrid Hovden is a PhD fellow at the University of Oslo.

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Great article Astrid and good photos. Let's hope that Gov of Nepal can do something meaningful to support its citizens when in need. And that outside agencies also can invest some time, money and expertise into finding solutions to this growing problem.

2. KiranL
Amazing photographs and video. First time have seen the horror of what a GLOF can do. But let's not forget that many millions more are affected by the droughts, floods and climate variability. But since that deals with weather, it is more difficult to quantify than expanding glacial lakes in danger of bursting. Still, great story. Thanks to the writer and Nepali Times for bringing it to the world's notice.

3. kumar lama
there is nothing govt of nepal will do. when fking leaders are engaged in their self interest, do you think they darn care about humla or jumla or solu. No way. 

4. Deepak

Good Article featuring the very important issues that should be considered by government  of Nepal and  other development and research  agencies... Quick action is needed before its too late..... 

Thanks Astrid  for very good coverage.

5. Bhimsen
This report clarifies GLOFs are not fictitious horror stories. One has to realise the lurking danger may turn real. Wonderful capture. A description of how Astrid Hovden managed to capture it would also be interesting.

6. lojang sherpa
GLOF is always hazardious phenomenon....i hope i can do some research on this...i am M.Sc. student here in I.O.E. Pulchowk in water hometown is Solukhumbu, so this is also biggest concern for me....hope i can pull  some strings....i want it to be my thesis topic...funny i was working on drought due to my own reasons...

7. Dwight E.Howell
What is happening is a damning event caused by a landslide is followed by the land slide being breached resulting in flooding. A fairly common event in this part of the world. The rest of the article would appear to be drivel.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)