Taking daily weather condition measurements is crucial to forecasting and warning against risk.
AKAH maintains a database of these daily weather reports, which avalanche forecasting expert, Doug Chabot, reviews every morning during the winter season to provide avalanche forecasts and advisories. Doug notes that a combination of three factors can cause avalanches: slopes steeper than 30 degrees, which are ubiquitous in the mountainous terrain of northern Afghanistan, Pakistan and Tajikistan; the weather, for example whether the snow is dense or powdery, and whether the wind is blowing it about; and snowpack (whether each new layer of snow is adhering to the others or could be easily triggered to slide). Assessing snowpack would require digging expeditions high in the mountains, so monitoring avalanche activity serves as a proxy.
Other than predicting and preparing for avalanches, mitigation strategies include triggering them at safe times, building defence structures high on the mountain in starting zones to prevent avalanches, or creating valley floor structures to protect houses. As these mitigation strategies are high cost and can cover only a limited zone per structure, having an effective system to forecast and warn against risk is crucial, as is getting people to heed warnings. For this, the weather monitoring posts are key.
“The weather monitoring posts require less than US$ 100 of equipment to set up and are run by volunteers. What’s really great is that the villagers collect their own data and are deeply invested in the programme. It makes the whole programme sustainable,” said Doug Chabot.
Through this programme, weather monitoring volunteers and local communities are learning to spot avalanche risks and monitor conditions to make their own informed decisions and cope with the risks they face.
“An avalanche happened when I was out of Shughnan. Before I left, I requested my family during the raising of snow to leave the house in line with what AKAH had trained us to do and said that the snow showed that there would probably be an avalanche,” said Rahim Bek, Shughnan District, Afghanistan. “Luckily, there were no fatalities.”
To help communities act on this information, protect and prepare against an avalanche and recover quickly if one strikes, AKAH equips local emergency response volunteer teams, including AVPTs, with specialised training.
Mohammad Haref, schoolteacher and AVPT team leader in Ishkashim District, Afghanistan, has helped safely evacuate people when his village was threatened by avalanches or floods. He has noticed more frequent avalanches over the years as temperatures have risen and rain and snow patterns have changed:
“Every year, our village experiences natural disasters. Considering the needs of our people and our community that is far from telecommunication networks and the inaccessibility of district centres during cold weather, I decided to join the team. I received training on first aid and search and rescue twice in the last two years. This year, I received professional training about avalanches. We have instruments such as shovels, tools to bring back patients, loudspeakers, electricity, saws, axes, string, as well as protective equipment including two [avalanche] probes, boxes and goggles.”