Zanskar faces disaster as landslides create artificial lake

  • Toufiq Rashid, Hindustan Times, Srinagar
  • Updated: Feb 05, 2015 18:43 IST

A high-level team of the national disaster management authority (NDMA) will be in the state on February 8 to discuss ways to resolve an ecological crisis that could affect thousands of people in Ladakh's Zanskar area.

A landslide in a remote, inaccessible part of the mountainous region on January 15 blocked the river Phuktal and created an artificial lake spread over a 5-km area.

Experts have warned that the lake, which could be storing more than 30 to 35 million cubic metres of water, can cause "catastrophic flash floods" if it bursts.

Officials said an alert has been issued in 20 hamlets in the area, where independent estimates suggest around 4000 people could be affected.

"We have three things at hand: to remove the blockages, alert the population in the areas downstream, and to create temporary settlements for people,'' the divisional commissioner of Kashmir, Rohit Kansal, told HT.

"We have some time at our disposal as the river water is still frozen. But once it starts melting it could become a threat to the entire area,'' he added.

The lake has been created around 90 km away from Padam area of Zanskar, en route the world famous Chadar trek, which has been closed for tourists. The area is also important as the Nimo-Bazgo hydroelectric project gets water from the river Phuktal.

Kansal said the process to identify safe spots for rehabilitating people is underway and added that a sophisticated alarm system has been set up in Phutkal to send out early warnings in case of any eventuality.

However, the local administration is facing many problems as the area is cut off due to heavy snow fall.

"The area is accessible only on foot, so our people are walking up there to alert people and also estimate the number of people likely to be affected once the water starts melting,'' Kansal added.

The multi-disciplinary team of experts comprises representatives drawn from national remote sensing centre (NRSC), central water commission, geological survey of India besides the Wadia institute of himalayan geology.

The state consulted all local engineers, including army engineers, and the state disaster management groups before approaching the NDMA for help last month.

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