GLOF Risk Guidelines for India

Preparation of Guidelines for the Management of Glacial Hazards and Risks especially Glacial Lake Outbursts Floods (GLOFs)

Photo credit: Dan Grossman

The impact of glacial hazards

A warming climate has a number of potential consequences for glacial hazards. New lakes form, existing moraine‐dams may experience accelerated degradation through melting of ice cores and their lakes may increase in volume. Outbursts of such lakes, so-called Glacial Lake Outburst Floods (GLOFs), can release millions of cubic meters of water and debris in some days or even hours which can cause catastrophic devastation and flooding up to hundreds of kilometers downstream, affecting distant communities (located dozens of kilometers from lakes) causing deaths, damaging their property, livelihood, destroying the bio‐diversity and eco‐system, affecting the tourism industry, bridges, road, hydropower plants and other infrastructure in the area.

A further widespread problem that may develop with global warming is a shift in hazard zones in general. In other words, glacial and related hazards may begin to affect areas with no history of such events, where regulatory and social aspects of preparedness will not exist. As a result, GLOF risks are receiving increased attention as a key climate change hazard, and awareness for glacial lake monitoring and hazard mitigation has increased recently.

Cooperation between India and Switzerland

Natural disasters like GLOFs are not mainstreamed into major policies and programmes of the Government of India. People residing at considerable distances downstream from unstable lakes are facing serious threats to their lives and property. In that context, the National Disaster Management Agency of India (NDMA) has expressed interest in Swiss support for the development of an overall strategy for GLOF risk management and incorporation of GLOF for future policy formulation in the country so that the government may take serious action for prevention, mitigation, response to GLOFs and rehabilitation and reconstruction of the areas affected by GLOFs. As the physical attributes of glacial lakes are similar throughout the Hindu Kush‐Himalayas, it is hoped that the results of this work can also be applied to other parts of the region.

Our project mandate

EClim has been contracted by the Delhi office of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC), in order to (i) develop recommendations for adaptation to, and mitigation of, GLOF hazards in India, concentrating on a small number of lakes perceived as especially critical; and, (ii) to assist the Government of India in developing an overall strategy and guidelines to assess and address possible risks from GLOFs in the future.

A direct collaboration mechanism has been established, where EClim scientists are providing input to the development of the related official guideline document, supporting a Task Force of Indian Specialists, nominated by NDMA. In parallel, EClim is facilitating the involvement of other international experts from the GAPHAZ community, to ensure that the Indian Government can fully capitalize on internationally available leading experience and expertise in the field.

On the occasion of the International Day for Disaster Risk Reduction, the final Guidelines on the Management of Glacial Lake Outburst Floods (GLOFs) and a related Summary for Policy Makers have been released by NDMA on 13 October 2020.

GLOF, hazards, risk, India, Himalayas, DRR, science-policy interface, NDMA
2018 – 2020
Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC)