From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :
Prelims level : Glacial burst
Mains level : Paper 3- Floods in Uttarakhand and steps need to be taken to deal with such disasters
The article discusses the factors that could explain the cause of the recent flash floods in Uttarakhand and suggest the immediate steps to deal with such disasters.
What makes Uttarakhand vulnerable
- Days after a glacier burst in the Chamoli district of Uttarakhand caused flash floods, the scientific community is still struggling to understand what triggered the disaster.
- Uttarakhand is located in the midst of young and unstable mountains and is subject to intense rainfall.
- For years experts have voiced their fears about an impending disaster due to climate change, rapid and indiscriminate construction activities, and the subsequent ecological destruction in the region.
- Studies have shown that widespread settlements, farming, cattle grazing and other anthropogenic activities could destroy the natural barriers that control avalanches and floods, thereby enhancing the possibilities of a glacial lake outburst flood.
- The Hindu Kush Himalaya Assessment Report (2019) had pointed out that one-third of the Hindu Kush Himalaya’s glaciers would melt by 2100 and potentially destabilise the river regime in Asia, even if all the countries in the region fulfilled their commitments under the Paris Agreement.
Possible causes of the current glacial outburst
- The current glacier burst was loosely attributed to erosion, a build-up of water pressure, an avalanche of snow or rocks, landslides or an earthquake under the ice.
- A rock mass, weakened from years of freezing and thawing of snow, may have led to the creation of a weak zone and fractures leading to a collapse that resulted in flash floods.
Issue of construction activity
- Experts and activists have incessantly asked for scrutiny into the construction of hydroelectric power projects in Uttarakhand.
- There have also been allegations about the use of explosives in the construction of dams and other infrastructure.
- In 2014, an expert committee led by Dr Ravi Chopra, instituted to assess the role of dams in exacerbating floods, provided hard evidence on how haphazard construction of dams was causing irreversible damage to the region.
7 Immediate steps
- 1) Investing in resilience planning, especially in flood prevention and rapid response.
- 2) Climate proofing the infrastructure such as by applying road stabilisation technologies for fragile road networks and strengthening existing structures like bridges, culverts and tunnels.
- 3) Strengthening embankments with adequate scientific know-how
- 4) Reassessing development of hydropower and other public infrastructure.
- 5) Investing in robust monitoring and early warning system.
- 6) Establishing implementable policies and regulatory guidelines to restrict detrimental human activities, including responsible eco- and religious tourism policies.
- 7) Investing in training and capacity building to educate and empower local communities to prevent and manage risks effectively.
Consider the question “What are the factors that make Uttarakhand vulnerable to natural disasters? Suggest the measures to prevent and deal with the disasters”
India needs to urgently rise up to the challenge by applying innovative and inclusive solutions that support nature and marginalised communities, to restore and rebuild a resilient future for Uttarakhand.