On 7th February 2021, an ordinary day just like any other in Uttarakhand, little did people know that their lives were going to change on that particular day. A sudden flood in the Dhauli Ganga, Rishi Ganga and Alaknanda rivers caused widespread destruction in the mountainous areas.
More than 200 people were missing, and 60 bodies were recovered. The Tapovan-Vishnugad hydel project of NTPC and the Rishi Ganga hydel project of the Rishi Ganga Hydel Project were both severely damaged, with scores of workers trapped in tunnels as the waters rushed in. Scientists are debating the actual source of the flash floods that wreaked havoc in Uttarakhand’s Chamoli district on February 7. However, these incidents are likely to become more common in the near future, owed to the repercussions of human activity, such as the climate-problem, and recent developments like the construction of dams in the alpine terrain to generate energy.
But the impact of the floods is not limited to a region or a state – the calamity’s impact exceeds domestic borders. This rise in temperature in Uttarakhand is thought to have accelerated the melting of glaciers in the area. According to HT on February 8, scientists believe that glaciers in the Himalayas have been melting faster since the turn of the century. The Uttarakhand flash floods are not simply a “natural” disaster, but also a man-made tragedy to a large extent.
Many experts pointed out that the area of rampant neglect is the poor drainage system. At certain places, the local bodies have constructed small culverts when 1-2 meter spans are necessary. When drains are installed, they are frequently clogged with debris. The damage of the storm was compounded by infrastructure along the flood path, particularly hydropower projects. In fragile alpine areas, infrastructure development should be guided by a sustainability framework that includes environmental sustainability.
Infrastructure planning should take into account the likelihood of Uttarakhand-like events, according to Arun B. Shrestha, Regional Programme Manager for River Basins and Cryosphere at the intergovernmental International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD), who was not involved in the review. According to him, the likelihood of such occurrences occurring in the future increases as the rate of climate change and socioeconomic changes continues to rise. Shrestha, who agreed with the review on in-situ measurements and monitoring, explained that a remote sensing-based study can provide a wide picture of the status of a glacier lake across a large area. This can be used to find lakes that are potentially dangerous (PD).
With innumerable lives lost, families bereaved, children orphaned, and massive destruction to the environment and property, the Chamoli floods have clearly shown us what our mistakes and negligence can cost us. None of us can be idle after this, we need to take responsibility for our actions and their impact on our environment.