At least 11 killed in Pakistan avalanche

Four women and a four-year-old boy were among those killed in the disaster near the Shounter Pass in northern Pakistan, police say.

This aerial picture taken on June 10, 2022, shows Passu glacier near Passu village in Pakistan's Gilgit-Baltistan region
Gilgit Baltistan, sometimes referred to as the land of glaciers, has frequently seen avalanches and snow landslides in recent years due to climate change [File: Abdul Majeed/AFP]

At least 11 people have been killed after an avalanche hit members of a nomadic tribe as they crossed a mountainous area in northern Pakistan, the country’s disaster management agency has said.

“Such incidents are rising in Pakistan due to the impact of climate change,” Pakistan’s Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif said in a statement on Saturday.

Pakistan, which in recent years has faced record monsoon rains and glacier melt in northern mountains, is among the top 10 countries at risk of natural disasters due to rising temperatures.

Sharif called on the international community to fulfil its responsibility to save developing countries facing economic challenges from adverse effects of climate change.

The incident took place near the Shounter Pass that connects the Gilgit-Baltistan region with Pakistan-administered Kashmir.

Gilgit Baltistan, sometimes referred to as the land of glaciers, has frequently seen avalanches and snow landslides in recent years due to glacial melting.

Senior police officer Ziarat Ali told The Associated Press news agency that four women and a four-year-old boy were among the dead.

The nomads were taking their herds of goats on foot from the Kel area of Azad Kashmir to Astore, when they were caught in the avalanche of snow in the early morning hours, Ali said.

The bodies of the victims have been recovered, the disaster management agency said. It added that 13 injured, including a child, were taken to a local hospital in a critical condition.

Rescue official Subah Khan told the AFP news agency that the group consisted of approximately 35 nomads in total. Initial assessments suggested up to 15 head of cattle also died.

The Shounter Pass, which is located at 4,420 meters (14,501 feet) above sea level, connects the Astore district of the Gilgit-Baltistan region to the bordering Kashmir Valley.

Harsh weather conditions hampered the rescue operation and made access to the remote scene difficult. Residents were taking the lead in the rescue operation in the difficult-to-reach area, Muhammad Riaz, a police official from the area, told AFP.

Chief Minister of Gilgit Baltistan Khalid Khurshid imposed a state of emergency in the hospitals of the main cities in the area, Gilgit and Skardu.

Rising temperatures are rapidly melting glaciers in Pakistan’s northern mountain ranges that have resulted in the formation of 3,044 glacial lakes in Gilgit Baltistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provinces, according to the United Nations.

The country faced flash floods in the summer of 2022 that killed more than 1,700 people and affected 33 million.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies