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Post-Nepal Earthquake Assessment Report: Imja, Tsho Rolpa, and Thulagi Glacial Lakes

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A. Byers
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Nepal has entered an era of accelerated catastrophic events that has been exacerbated by the recent earthquake and aftershocks according to this paper. The continuation of glacial lake outburst floods can be predicted with confidence, both in frequency as well as magnitude.

Detailed case studies based on fieldwork around the communities in Nepal downstream of the Imja, Tsho Rolpa, and Thulagi glacial lakes, show communities are fearful of the likelihood of GLOFs, and lack adequate information about early warning systems (EWSs), lake risk reduction methods, and disaster management planning.

The researchers argue that there is no need to wait until GLOFs kill people and destroy hydropower installations in Nepal before taking action. Proposed actions include building upon the lessons learned from Peru and to begin conducting detailed scientific surveys of all lakes, designing Himalayan-specific methods to reduce their risks of growing and unstable glacial lakes.

Peru, with glaciers at lower elevations and closer to the equator, was in a similar predicament 60 years ago. In 1951 the Government of Peru established a Glaciological Unit based in the city of Huaraz, at the foot of the Cordillera Blanca or “white mountain range.” The reason for the establishment of the unit was that, between 1941 and 1950, three GLOFs had occurred that killed an estimated 10,000 people and destroyed the hydropower plant that furnished the region with most of its electricity.

This suggests future risk reduction work in Nepal and elsewhere in the high mountain world should take more of an interdisciplinary and participatory approach than in the past, considering the human, economic, environmental, and development aspects of glacial lake mitigation in addition to the standard physical and engineering surveys.