More soldiers killed by avalanches in the Himalayas

The Siachen Glacier is the world’s highest battleground, where Indian and Pakistani troops face each in the bitter cold, 6,000 metres above sea-level at the northern end of their border.

Soldiers have died in combat there, but their common enemy – the hostile environment – is proving increasingly deadly.

The two countries’ mechanised units affect the region’s vulnerable ecology, not least because of the large amount of rubbish they generate. Climate warming is adding to the problems, the biggest of which is avalanches.

Avalanches killed 140 Pakistani soldiers on the lower part of the 47-mile glacier in 2012 and 10 Indian soldiers in 2016. This year, avalanches killed  four soldiers and two Sherpas on 18 November and less than two weeks later another two people.

Shrinking glaciers and more avalanches in the Himalayas were predicted as ”highly likely” by the UN intergovernmental panel’s 2014-5 report on climate change.

A former Indian defence ministry scientist says that the frequency of avalanches has steadily increased in Siachen since 1984, when Indian troops were first stationed there and scientists began studying the area.

The scientist says that temperatures fluctuate on the glacier but that both the lowest and highest winter temperatures are on an upward trend – an important factor behind the avalanches.

Thukjay Lotus, a Sherpa who works in Siachen and who I met in the village of Panamik close to the base camp, says he sees avalanches as the biggest threat in the area.

”We’re always worried about avalanches. In the last 10 years a number of avalanches have occurred and many people have been killed. Two years ago, I just made it out alive.”

/Athar Parvaiz, Kashmir

The postcards made by journalists in our network are published on the Blankspot Project website.