ISLAMABAD/Chitral - The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge yesterday visited Chitral to explore the scenic beauty and witness the impact of climate change on fragile and remote communities.

On the third day of their trip to the country, Prince William and Kate Middleton flew by a helicopter to the northern tip of the Chiatibo Glacier to see how climate change is causing glaciers to melt, creating risks for downstream communities.

In the area marked by magnificent Hindu Kush peaks, they witnessed how communities are responding and adapting to the effects of climate change.

The Duke and Duchess are known for raising worldwide awareness about climate change. A statement issued by the British High Commission here said that climate change is a key area of interest for the two dignitaries at home and globally.

Chiatibo is one of the around 7,200 glaciers of Pakistan. Situated at the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan, this glacier is rapidly retreating.

The royal couple received a detailed briefing on glacial melting, climate change and its causes and implications from Pakistani hydrometeorologist and glacier expert, Dr Furrukh Bashir of the Pakistan Meteorological Department.

Afterwards they travelled to Bumburet, home to the Kalash community, to see the damage that flooding linked to climate change has already caused in the region, and to learn how communities are responding.

They saw first-hand the extensive damage done by a 2015 glacial lake outburst and leant from the community on how the lives of local people were affected.

They then saw a first aid drill performed by volunteers from the local Emergency Response Team, which is supported by UK Aid, and a river crossing drill performed by the regional Search and Rescue Team.

Ghafoor Ahmed, community-based Disaster Risk Management Trainer from an NGO, ‘Acted’, gave a briefing on the damages in the aftermath of flash floods and about teaching the locals on first-aid in case of natural disaster and emergency.

Finally, the royal couple met members of the Kalash and Sunni communities in the settlement of Karakal, to know more about their distinctive culture.

Earlier, Prince Williams and Kate Middleton on their arrival at Chitral airport were presented embroidered off-white gowns and regimental headgear of Chitral Scouts featuring a distinctive feather. This was the similar robe presented to Princess Diana, the late mother of Prince William, during her 1991 Chitral visit.

An album of photographs commemorating Princess Diana’s visit was also gifted to the royal couple.

Impact of Climate Change on Pakistan

As climate change effects are accentuated at the high altitudes, a 1.5°C global temperature increase is likely to mean a further 2.2°C warming of northern Pakistan’s mountains. This could lead to a loss of 36 percent of its glaciers by 2100.

The melting of the region’s glaciers poses immediate problems for the communities living below them. Temporary glacial lakes have been forming at an increasing rate and expanding in volume since the 1990s. When these burst, in ‘Glacial Lake Outburst Flooding’ incidents, downstream communities are often devastated.

A GLOF in Bumburet in year 2000 destroyed 40 percent of cultivatable land, and another such flooding in 2015 washed away roads, houses and other infrastructure.

In a speech delivered at a reception hosted by the British High Commission in Islamabad the other evening, Prince William highlighted his visit to the glacier scheduled for the next day (Wednesday) and the challenge of climate change, a major theme of their five-day trip.

Pakistan’s northern glaciers and those throughout the Hindu Kush and Himalaya region, are an important water store for 250 million people, and another 1.6 billion rely on rivers originating in the mountains, putting many communities at risk as global temperatures rise.

“This could lead to a loss of over a third of these vital glaciers in less than a century, with enormous impacts not only on the availability of water, but on agriculture and hydropower generation,” William said in his speech.

He said he hoped his visit to Chitral would help the couple better understand the challenges residents were facing first-hand. “I hope to learn what more we all can do to help prevent and mitigate this impending global catastrophe.”


UK involvement

The UK Government, through DFID, is contributing to a pioneering project, called Building Disaster Resilience in Pakistan, which looks at how to provide early warning of GLOF events to downstream communities. This is now being scaled up into a programme covering vulnerable communities across northern Pakistan. £33.9m of UK aid has been provided so far.

The world’s poorest communities are often the hardest hit by the consequences of climate change – the Kalash community is a key example. The UK is committed to ensuring that resilience building for local communities to make them less vulnerable to extreme weather changes is at the heart of its strategy to fight climate change with UK aid. Across Pakistan, this is one of four programmes focused on adaptation to climate change.

By 2020 this programme will help 1.5 million people prepare themselves for natural disasters including flooding and drought, and ensure communities and towns have hazard maps and plans for when shocks to happen.

It will also build agricultural resilience to extreme weather changes, a pilot which will inform our work globally to respond to climate change. Emergency response teams would be set up in the at risk districts to manage any crisis.

The programme would also ensure that local communities are in close contact with local government to share information and respond together to natural disasters.

In Bumburet, UK aid has supported post-flood reconstruction and disaster preparedness work, delivered by the NGO ACTED. ACTED helped to re-establish and train the village Emergency Response Team (which proved crucial to preventing loss of life in the 2015 floods) and constructed drainage lines, roads, irrigation channels, flood protection walls, and shelters.

‘Cash for work’ schemes support Kalash households by providing a market for the handicrafts produced by female villagers, and ‘climate smart’ training helps farmers adapt their agricultural techniques to ensure food security.

ACTED work closely in the area with the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN) and Aga Khan Rural Support Programme (AKRSP). WWF also supports conservation projects locally.



Local leaders views about royal visit

Archaeologist and in-charge of Chitral Museum Ms Syed Gul Kalash said it was an honour for Chitral to be visited by the British royals after Princess Diana. She urged the world to visit Kalash and explore a “living museum of a 3,000-year-old civilization”.

Wazir Zada, the first-ever member of the provincial assembly from Kalash community, expressed the hope that the royal couple’s visit would encourage foreign tourists to explore the ancient Kalash civilization.

Chitral Deputy Commissioner Naveed Ahmed said the royal visit to Pakistan’s north was a clear message of peace to the world. He said that abolishing the requirement of a no-objection certificate would boost international tourism.



Broghil National Park

Established in 2010 with support from the WWF, Broghil National Park is a haven for indigenous and migratory fauna, especially rare Pamirian and Siberian birds.

The Broghil Valley is largely treeless Alpine tundra, at around 3500m in elevation. It stretches over 310,000 acres and is sparsely populated.

The settlement of Ishkarwaz, close to the Chiatibo Glacier, is home to the world’s highest polo ground, which every year hosts a celebrated yak polo tournament.

The Park is in the remote and sparsely populated north-east of the Chitral District, adjacent to the Wakhan Corridor, a strip of Afghanistan which borders Pakistan to the south and Tajikistan to the north. The Hindu Raj range and the many glaciers that flow from it form the southern side of the Broghil Valley.