KATHMANDU – A giant glacial lake near Mount Everest, that threatened thousands of lives if it was to flood, has been drained to a safe level confirmed the Nepalese Armed Forces.

Imja Tsho one of the fastest-growing lakes in the Himalayas, as described in a 2009 study is located at an altitude of 5,010 meters, just 6.2 miles south of the world’s highest peak. It was formed in the 1950s when water began collecting at the foot of the Imja Glacier. Imja is one of thousands of glacial lakes in the Himalayas.

With the accelerated melting of glaciers due to rising temperature many of the lakes are said to be filling up fast.

The military said the project to make it safe was the highest drainage project of its kind, with army personnel and Sherpas working for six months to construct an outlet to release the water.

Top Khatri, the project’s manager with the department of hydrology and meteorology, said that the lake, nearly 150 meters deep, had its water lowered by 3.5 meters after six months of rigorous work draining more than five million cubic meters of water. He added that the process would now be applied to other lakes too.

The project was challenging because of the heavy snow and the dangers of working at high altitude. Officials said teams could only work safely for a few hours each day.

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) assisted the Nepal government with funding of nearly $3m to drain the lake.

Early warning systems have been installed for communities downstream. However, many local Sherpas feel too much attention has been given to Imja, with media reports panicking locals, while the risks posted by other glacial lakes are ignored by officials.

“We live in fear that we might be surprisingly hit by floods from glacial lakes that are becoming dangerous but have not received any attention,” said Nimji Sherpa, a leader in Thamo village.

Lives of more than 50,000 people living in nearby villages and even in southern districts of the country would have a catastrophic impact of flood as per experts.

– Bandana Singh, Correspondent (Asia: South)