Pakistan landslide dam alert

PAKISTAN, 6 April – MapAction has been helping to alleviate risks of a potential flood catastrophe in mountainous northern Pakistan.

The charity was approached by NGO leaders in Pakistan seeking assistance with risk and emergency planning mapping in the Hunza district where a mountain landslide earlier this year dammed the Hunza River creating a lake. Rising water levels are now threatening to breach the dam, putting 45,000 people at risk from an outburst flood.

MapAction found that UK flood researchers at Durham and Newcastle universities, led by Professor David Petley, had been studying the situation, and that there was now an urgent need to map the potential at-risk areas downstream and to form a basis for evacuation planning. At the same time, as a member of the EU-funded SAFER project, MapAction was able to request specialist assistance through Infoterra UK and its partners.

Within a few days, the University researchers and the SAFER team had run state-of-the-art computer models to indicate the possible extent of a “worst case” flood. Using data about the shape of the valleys, the volume of water and the speed of its movement, the result was a series of detailed datasets showing areas potentially at risk. MapAction volunteers helped to map and interpret the data, working with staff of Focus Humanitarian Assistance Pakistan, an NGO which is taking a lead in relief and risk mitigation work in the region.

MapAction team member Nick McWilliam commented: “Predicting floods in such complex terrain is an uncertain and difficult science. MapAction was able to tap the expertise of some of the world’s leading experts, connecting their results to beneficiaries on the ground. It’s a good example of research techniques being rapidly applied to create maps for a very pressing humanitarian crisis.”