Himachal: MoEF sits on proposal to install flood alert

A typical hilly rivulet near Shat village in Kullu district of Himachal Pradesh. The village witnessed a devastating flash flood in 1994 when the same rivulet turned deadly for 27 people. (DH photo)

For nearly four years, the Union Environment Ministry has sat on a proposal to install a flood alert system in Himachal Pradesh, whose vulnerability from such natural disasters is increasing each year due to climate change.

The warning system was to be set up in this hamlet in Parvati valley that witnessed a deadly flash flood in 1994, killing 27 villagers.

“This is to be the first flood alert system in Himachal. Depending on its performance, we planned to set up more such systems in other parts of the state. We have even identified 6-8 more sites,” D C Thakur, an official from Himachal Pradesh environment department told a team of visiting journalists.

Since the middle of the 20th century, more than 5,000 flood deaths were recorded in the Himalayan state. There were 66 floods in Kullu district alone between 1965 and 2017.

The situation is unlikely to improve and more such events could be expected over the next decades due to urbanisation, tourism and impacts of climate change, according to a report prepared by the Indian Himalayas Climate Adaptation Programme (IHCAP).

The UN Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in one of its recent report too shared similar thoughts, "Increasing flash floods attributed to climate change have severely damaged terraces, orchards, roads, and stream embankments in the Himalayas."

In 2015, the state government submitted the Rs 20 crore proposal on reducing the flood risk in Parvati valley to the Union Environment Ministry under the National Adaptation Fund for Climate Change. “It is still pending with the central government,” Thakur said.

While the plan was to reduce the risks from glacier lake outburst floods, the lessons gathered from the project would have been useful to tackle other types of floods caused by cloudburst or heavy intensity monsoon rainfall.

For instance, in case of a flash flood, warning sensors could be linked to a high-pitched siren alerting the locals who would get only a minute or two to run for their lives. “On July 11, 1994, the flood took just five minutes to destroy our village killing 27 people and our animals,” said Kamal Chand, a former Sarpanch of the Shat village, who witnessed the deluge.

A warning system is also necessary to 1,958 infrastructure in Kullu valley facing the flood risk. Overall 70% of all infrastructure has been categorised as very high or high flood risk.

“Considering the high number of elements at flood risk, it is imperative to improve the resilience of the population against future hydrological-related disasters. Installation of early warning systems may help mitigate future losses and fatalities in Kullu district,” says the IHCAP report, prepared by the Swiss Agency for Development and Corporation (SDC).

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