Dehradoon: The glacial burst in the Chamoli district of Uttarakhand, which on Sunday claimed at least seven lives with another 170 feared dead, wasn’t just the result of climate change but was nature’s way of telling humans that it can strike back when the ecological balance is destroyed. The death toll in Chamoli disaster is expected to be around 180.
Despite the several warnings by experts and ecologists, human activities like the stone quarrying, blasting of mountains and digging of tunnels in the base of mountain system for past several years, under-construction dams on Rishi Ganga and Dhauli Ganga rivers, kept going in the area which all played havoc with the local ecology.
The climate change, which has been held responsible for faster glacial melting, could have aggravated the situation. As per a new report by Kathmandu-based International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development, 36% of the volume of glaciers in Hindu Kush Himalayan (HKH) region will be gone by the end of 2100 if the world couldn’t manages to keep the temperature rise within 1.5 degrees Celsius as mandated by Paris Climate Agreement. Even though the disaster region may not strictly fall in the HKH, its findings confirm various studies on faster melting of glaciers feeding the perennial Ganga from the upper reaches of Uttarakhand and China.
Data from the Indian Space Research Organisation’s (ISRO) resource centre on Himalayan glaciers reveals that melting of the glaciers in Central Himalayan catchment area, where Chamoli falls, has increased in the first 20 years of this century. Furthermore, a research based on the study of 650 glaciers spanning 2,000 kms and published in a journal in June 2019 also showed that glacial melting has doubled since 2000 as compared to 1975-2000. Many experts believe that the faster melting of hundreds of Ganga glaciers would impact livelihood of close to 600 million people living in the Ganga river basin from Uttarakhand to Bangladesh, and would badly impact India’s economy too.
What happened today at #Uttarakhand was the Glacial Lake Outburst Flood or GLOF. Here is the representation.
— Ankit Kumar, IFS (@AnkitKumar_IFS) February 7, 2021
Keeping environmental norms at bay and building hydel dams and constructing wider roads, humans have been neglecting damage caused to the local ecology and loss of forest cover in the upper reaches of Central Himalayas for many years that eventually has contributed to the glacial melting and bursts, which is wreaking havoc now.
Meanwhile, villagers of Raini in Chamoli, now the epicentre of the Sunday disaster, had petitioned the Uttarkhand high court in May 2019 against illegal stone quarrying on Rishi Ganga river bed, blasting of mountains and improper muck disposal by contractors engaged in construction of Rishi Ganga hydel project. The district magistrate of Chamoli, who was asked to submit a report by the HC, had also found some of the allegations been true.
The upper reaches of Uttarakhand, which is the source for several small riverine systems feeding Ganga and has 16 dams while another 13 are under construction, is reportedly to have another 54 dams to harness hydel energy potential of these rivers, as per the state government new proposal. Dhauli Ganga river, where eight back-to-back new hydel projects are proposed in addition to National Thermal Power Corporation’s Tapovan project, was badly damaged in Sunday’s flash floods.
On the other hand, Geologists claim that such heavy drilling of a young and under-studied mountain systems such as Himalayas and loss of massive green cover for these dams were causing an irreparable damage.
Two big disasters in Himalyan region that have taken place in less than a decade, should be an eyeopener for all. A similar flash flood, in June 2013, which was caused by glacial lake burst had ravaged the Kedarnath shrine at the peak of the pilgrimage season, killing close to 3,000 people and leaving thousands missing.
Based on reports, there is enough data to suggest that flash floods due to glacial melt in Uttarkhand have increased in past 20 years and if the present Himalayan destruction continues, it would raise the number of the disaster and its impact further.