August 16, 2022

The collapse of natural glaciers in Kyrgyzstan sends a worrying signal to Central Asia

The collapse of natural glaciers in Kyrgyzstan sends a worrying signal to Central Asia

By Baktigol Chinibawa
|July 13, 2022

On July 8, a glacier collapsed in the mountains of Kyrgyzstan’s Issyk-Kul region, triggering an avalanche. For two days, there was little information about this incident until it was published by foreign tourists who witnessed it. These events took place at the Dzhuku Pass on the Terskey Ala-Too ridge next to the largest gold mine in Central Asia, Kumtor.

Harry Shimin, a British tourist, explained to a local news agency that the ice mass melted at the moment a group of tourists were crossing Dzhuku Pass. Thanks to a lucky stroke, the tourists had not yet crossed a section directly on their path, which was covered with a mass of ice a few minutes later. Shimin: “If we’d walked 5 minutes longer on our walk, we’d all be dead.” Wrote He continued on Instagram: We passed [the section] “After that, walking through huge ice bergs and rocks that were thrown much further than we could run, even if we acted immediately.” If they were not in the area at this time, the visual witness of this disaster would not have been available.

Kairat Moldoshev, a professor at the Department of Ecology and Tourism at the Kyrgyz Educational University in the national capital of Bishkek, stated that the disappearance of the glacier is the result of climate change. Due to the high temperature and the heat wave that hit Central Asia last year, a large part of the glacier melted and part of its ice fell into the valley.

Now, as Moldoshev suggests, it is necessary to begin systematic observation of the passage where the glacier descends, because the mass that reaches lower altitudes melts and may stimulate mudflows.

Central Asia’s glaciers, like elsewhere, are melting. Partial destruction of the glacial ice mass is a common occurrence in the mountains of Kyrgyzstan. However, such large-scale collapses rarely occur. And it is even more unusual for such an event to be filmed on video.

In June, the Kyrgyz Govt proposed to the parliament This gives international investors the opportunity to exploit all the metal and gold mines to provide additional income to the country’s weak economy. It was announced that large investors will be invited to participate in the open tender for the development of Jetim Tu iron ore mine in Narin, Sandik aluminum mine in Jumgol, Bala Chichkan copper and gold mine in Talas and Kotovo. Sai-II rare metal mine lurks. But scientists from the state’s Geoenvironmental Agency Safety Department have warned that mining operations will have negative impacts if steps are not taken to protect glaciers, fragile slopes and ecosystems.

Under previous government officials, the initiative to open and develop the Jetim Tu and Sandik mines was opposed by the local population and resulted in significant protests. Local people have long-standing concerns that mining operations damage pastures and soil.

Isak Beyk Turgoev, the head of the Geoecological Monitoring Center Laboratory at the Kyrgyz National Academy of Sciences, said: Azatic Media that environmental safety measures are not provided, and the open mining of these reserves is a threat to the ecosystem of the mountain ranges:

I am strongly against the open mining of Jetim Tu iron mine. If we dig it open and work, it will cause a lot of damage to the environment. Because in the ridges of Jetim Tu, like Kumtur, there is a source of water from Narin River. If we start digging a mine, very large mines will be created to extract iron ore concentrate and millions of tons of rock will be extracted. The crust of the mountain ranges is damaged and the permanent ice and glacier system collapses.

Tian Shan mountains and lake

Tian Shan Mountains in Kyrgyzstan. Picture: caravanserai/ Flickr

Zhuko Valley, the site of the disaster, is one of the most beautiful places in Issyk Kul. Many tourist routes pass through this gorge. It is also close to the Kumtor gold mine. According to activists and environmental researchers, the two large glaciers of Komtor mine are under serious threat. Mining operations contribute to their shrinking, either by direct ice removal or by depositing waste and other dark matter on the surfaces. The rapid decline of glaciers may cause serious environmental problems not only for Kyrgyzstan, but also for the entire Central Asian region, where glaciers are a vital element in water supply.

The natural glaciers of the Kyrgyz mountain ranges are not only an element of the landscape, but also significant accumulators of moisture. Snow and ice condensed in them are released as melt water during the warm period of the year. This role of glaciers is now becoming increasingly important due to droughts and water shortages in the region, although the accelerating loss of glaciers – which this disaster represents – calls this role into question.

For major rivers in Central Asia, such as the Syr Darya, natural glaciers in Kyrgyzstan have become a vital source of water during the warmer months. In Kyrgyzstan, there are more than 8000 natural glaciers and eternal snow with an area of ​​more than 8100 square kilometers. 8% From the territory of the country. The fate of glaciers is an urgent problem for Kyrgyzstan.

Kyrgyzstan is one of the 195 countries that ratified the Paris Agreement in 2015. All signatory countries are obliged to take appropriate measures to prevent an increase in global temperature of more than two degrees Celsius. The President of Kyrgyzstan, Sadir Japarov, a speech, speech At COP 26, the major global climate summit, last November, emphasizing the importance of this issue. He was the only Central Asian leader who attended the event and made a statement on the melting of glaciers and called on world leaders to take action and pledge to save the glaciers in Central Asia. As the recent disaster starkly demonstrates, the region’s glaciers—and the people and ecosystems that depend on them—face increasing threats. The time for concerted action, in this region as elsewhere, is now.

Baktygul Chynybaeva is a climate change journalist based in Kyrgyzstan, an alumnus of the Earth Journalism Association and a member of the Oxford Climate Journalism Network.

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