Freakishly High Temperatures Trigger Ice Melt, Flooding and Mudslides in Tajikistan

A general view in 2004 shows the town of Khorog, capital of the autonomous region of Gorno-Badakhshan near the Pamir Mountains. Shamil Zhumatov/Reuters

Mudflows and flooding triggered by an ice melt in the central Asian country of Tajikistan have displaced more than 600 people, according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM).

Usually high summer temperatures in Tajikistan, home to 8.4 million people, caused a glacial melt on July 16. The resulting water runoff hit the Shughnon district in Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Province, a remote, mountainous region in the country's southeast that shares a border with Afghanistan. More than 50 houses have been destroyed by the flooding, which has also damaged roads and bridges, hampering relief efforts. According to an IOM statement published Tuesday, 620 people have sought refuge in local shelters.

Rising temperatures around the globe are changing the planet. For example, 14 of the 15 hottest years on record have all occurred in the 21st century, according to the United Nations. Earlier this month, the U.N. issued its first-ever guidelines on how to survive heat waves, which the organization said have increased in frequency and intensity in recent years because of climate change. In Tajikistan, the threat of melting glaciers has loomed for a long time. In 2007, officials in the country said the impact and damage of climate change in the region will mainly derive from the melting glaciers in the Pamir Mountains in the Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Province.

"Climate change is bringing various challenges to the life of the local population," Kurbonbek Rustambekov, a hydrometeorologist in Badakhshan, told IRIN News in 2007. "In the last five years, we have observed a rise in local temperatures of up to 3 degrees centigrade here."

A 2009 report from humanitarian organization Oxfam found that melting glaciers in Tajikistan would bring about "the danger, in the future, of greater water shortages and even disputes in the wider region." The group also called the melting of some of the country's 8,492 glaciers "alarming."

Residents in the remote Badakhshan region told the Institute for War and Peace Reporting earlier this week that humanitarian assistance has been too slow to arrive. Tajikistan's foreign ministry estimates the damage has cost $100 million and is appealing for international aid to help rebuild, according to the Institute.

Further damage may be on the horizon. Mudflows have caused a river to block near the town of Khorog, forming a natural dam. The IOM warned Tuesday that there is a significant risk that the dam will burst and cause destruction to the 30,000 residents of Khorog. The organization also suggested the situation could be further exacerbated by refugees from Afghanistan fleeing across the border to Tajikistan because of activity from armed anti-government groups who have taken a district in Afghanistan close to the flood-affected region.