Glaciers and glacial lakes are major sources of freshwater in the Hindu Kush Himalaya and have important linkages with several ecosystem and socioeconomic benefits. The rise in global temperatures in recent decades has led to the rapid shrinking, retreating, thinning, and melting of glaciers, which impact water resources, flow regimes, and hydrological processes in associated river basins. This, along with other factors, also causes the formation of new glacial lakes and the expansion of existing ones. The increasing size of glacial lakes and fragile conditions in surrounding environments can lead to imbalances between glacial lakes and the dams that contain them, which could increase the risk of glacial lake outburst floods (GLOFs).
GLOFs have a devastating impact on infrastructure and the lives and livelihoods of downstream communities. As the rise in global temperature enhances glacial melt, GLOF incidents are now found to be increasing in frequency. The Panjshir flood in 2018 is one such example when a glacial lake formed rapidly and suddenly breached, impacting downstream communities. However, such risks can be minimized by thoroughly investigating the spatial and temporal development of glacial lakes, identifying potential GLOF risks and planning systematic and appropriate mitigation and adaptation measures. Accordingly, the National Water Affairs Regulation Authority (NWARA) and ICIMOD worked together to develop information on glaciers and glacial lakes in Afghanistan through ICIMOD’s SERVIR Hindu Kush Himalaya (SERVIR-HKH) Initiative. Afghanistan’s glacier dataset (1990–2015) was released in 2018. The General Directorate of Water Resources of NWARA and ICIMOD then prepared datasets on glacial lakes in Afghanistan (1990–2015). This is a first-of-its-kind dataset on the distribution of glacial lakes in Afghanistan and observed changes since the 1990s that covers the whole of Afghanistan using consistent data sources and methods.
Under ICIMOD’s expert supervision, a team from NWARA developed the database on Afghanistan’s glaciers and glacial lakes for the years 1990, 2000, 2010, and 2015. The main objective of the workshop is to share the database on Afghanistan’s glaciers and glacial lakes and discuss a way forward.
Distribution of glacial lakes in Afghanistan and observed changes (1990–2015)