26 Apr 2021

Curtain Hug

Disasters can be either natural or manmade and recently there have been several instances where the two were interrelated, mainly due to human error, sheer negligence, and rampant exploitation of natural resources. One such example is the recent disaster in Uttarakhand’s Chamoli district on February 7, 2021, in the form of a deluge, after a portion of the Nanda Devi glacier broke off. The sudden severe flooding of the Dhauli Ganga, Rishi Ganga, and Alaknanda rivers (tributaries of the Ganga) triggered widespread panic and large-scale devastation in the mountain areas. The two power projects— NTPC’s Tapovan-Vishnugad Hydro Project and the Rishi Ganga Power Project— were extensively damaged with scores of laborers trapped in tunnels as the waters came rushing in. According to the state government’s reports, at least 32 people have been feared to be dead and 206 people have been reported missing.
Several experts have been trying to determine the cause of these sudden floods, but so far an exact reason has not been confirmed. One of the most widely considered scenarios for the incident is the Glacial Lake Outburst Flood (GLOF). GLOFs and resulting disasters downstream during extreme rainfall events in glacial regions are commonly forecast by scientists. But this time scientists have seen it happen in winter when such events are least expected. IIT Indore’s Assistant Professor Mohd Farooq Azam termed the possibility as a rare incident. Climate change and the shifting weather patterns caused by global warming have been cited as another possible reason. According to Anjal Prakash, one of the lead authors of a special report on oceans and cryosphere of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), although it’s too early to explain the cause of the devastation, prima facie it seemed to be due to climate change and global warming which has become an alarming and irreversible situation now.

The causes may come to light sooner or later, but one thing that is quite evident from the increase in the frequency of the occurrence of such disasters in the Himalayan region is that it’s high time we took necessary preventive measures and upgraded the disaster management. One of the controversial aspects of this incident is the loss of the lives of the people working on the above-mentioned power projects. The Indian Supreme Court recognized the risks of hydropower projects in the high mountains after the 2013 flood in Uttarakhand, but the projects continued anyway. Power projects like these have become a necessary evil to satisfy the energy needs of the ever-growing population. A probable solution to lessen the extent of additional damage brought about by these projects could be to impose stricter rules and regulations in terms of safety measures undertaken while assessing the location of constructing such projects. In the words of Manu Gupta, a co-founder of the SEEDS (an organization working on sustainability and disaster resilience) “As climate change makes the Himalayas even more vulnerable, we need to put ecology at the center of our development paradigm in Uttarakhand and across the country.”