Uttarakhand floods cause down to 'human intervention'

Uttarakhand floods down to increased 'human intervention' in Himalayan region, green experts say

'Climate change-driven erratic weather patterns like increased snowfall and rainfall, and warmer winters have led to the melting point of a lot of snow'

This general view shows state-run NTPC hydropower project site damaged after a broken glacier caused a major river surge that swept away bridges and roads, near Joshimath in Chamoli district of Uttarakhand. Credit: AFP Photo.

Even though it may take time to find out the exact cause behind the disaster, the massive flood possibly caused by the glacial outburst in Uttarakhand once again puts the spotlight on the ecological fragility of the hill state, which faces multiple climate change threats on one hand while battling the consequences of large scale development work on the other.

The flood may have happened due to the breaching of a glacial lake, which generally does not happen in the winters. The Wadia Institute of Himalayan Geology, Dehradun has dispatched a team of scientists to investigate.

Get live updates on the Uttarakhand floods here

"This appears to be a glacial lake outburst which got triggered from Rishiganga glacier catchment area, causing damage to the property and people working in dam/tunnel sites," Akhilesh Gupta, a senior scientist at the Department of Science and Technology, who looks after the Indian national mission on climate change in the Himalayas told DH.

It is possible that a big chunk of the ice from the glacier may have been broken off and fell into the glacial lake, causing the waterbody to overflow. But the answer would come from an on-site investigation that may take time.

The environmentalists, however, observed that the central and state governments should have been more cautious in constructing hydropower plants in the hill state and expanding the roads considering the vulnerability of the states.

Read | 'A new lease of life': ITBP rescues workers stuck in flash-flood hit tunnel

“In 2014, the Ministry of Environment and Forest submitted an affidavit saying that the 2013 Kedarnath disaster was escalated directly and indirectly due to the under-construction and existing hydro projects in the areas. Even then no policy on cancellation of dams in Uttarakhand has been taken to date,” said green activist Mallika Bhanot

Also Read | 16 labourers rescued from tunnel in Uttarakhand

A 2014 report by the Uttarakhand government also recognises such threats. “Uttarakhand is the most vulnerable due to climate-mediated risks. Mountainous regions are vulnerable to climate change and have shown above-average warming in the 20th century. Studies have shown an increase in annual temperature in the Himalayan region and a net increase in rainfall by 2030s in comparison to 1970,” said the government action plan on climate change.

“Impacts are expected to range from the reduced genetic diversity of species to erratic rainfall leading to flash floods to glacial melt in the Himalayas leading to increased flooding that will affect water resources within the next few decades.”

Despite the threat recognition, the development work continues often bypassing the green norms. The most famous example is the Narendra Modi government’s favoured Char Dham highway project in which 889 km of roads was broken into 53 smaller projects, each less than 100 km, to bypass the environmental regulations.

In addition, there is a push by the Prime Minister’s Office as well by the Uttarakhand government on new hydroelectric projects.