World Resource Institute

Nepal: Responding Proactively to Glacial Hazards

By Arun Bhakta Shrestha and Susan Tambi Matambo

Glaciers in Nepal are shrinking due to warmer temperatures, forming glacial lakes which can burst and cause destructive glacial lake outburst floods (known as GLOFs) in downstream valleys. The Tsho Rolpa glacial lake is the largest of its kind in the Nepali Himalayas, and the threat of it flooding led the Government of Nepal to take proactive measures in the late 1990s. These included setting up an emergency warning system to alert local communities, and lowering the lake’s level by three meters. These measures, taken in 1997-98 are thought to have averted the prospect of a disastrous flood.

In addition, after detailed scientific and technical studies, a flood prevention system was put into place. This consisted of a channel cut to allow water to flow out of the lake, with the overflow used to power a micro-hydro plant. A permanent maintenance staff was also hired and the structures remain well-maintained. The early warning systems, however, ceased to be operational in 2002 despite the fact that a robust system was commissioned using the latest technology. This failure can be attributed to an absence of funding for maintenance, as well as lack of response by local communities, whom, the authors argue, had not been adequately educated about the risks of floods or trained in how to use the early warning system.

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