Recurrent flooding along the banks of the turbulent Sutlej has been a perennial concern for the Himachal Pradesh government. To thrash out ways of managing seasonal floods ahead of the monsoon, Indian and Chinese officials shared hydrological data on the river at annual expert level mechanism meeting in New Delhi, which concluded on Wednesday.
The Chinese informed their Indian counterparts about the accelerating glacial melt in the Sutlej catchment area, which has risen during the past one week. P Gyamba Dorje, director of the Central Water Commission at Shimla, said: “We held detailed discussions on the hydrology of the Sutlej with the Chinese experts. The water flow in the river has increased due to glacial melting and could rise during the monsoon”.
Apart from the Sutlej the Chinese also deliberated on the water levels in the Brahmaputra, also known as the Tsangpo. After both countries signed a memorandum of understanding in 2005 on sharing information on the Sutlej and Brahmaputra China set up a water monitoring station in Tseda and also installed a flood warning system to alarm people living in downstream areas. The pact has been renewed every five years.
The Sutlej, which rises in Tibet, an autonomous region of China, is highly prone to flooding. In 2005 floods wreaked havoc on downstream areas near Sumdoh and caused colossal damage in Kinnaur and Rampur. Over a dozen bridges and several kilometers of the national highway connecting border areas was swept away by the floodwaters that rose up to 60 feet high.
“We now don’t get any information from China but are dependent on the data sent to us every day by the National Remote Sensing Agency. Right now the water flow in the Pareecho, a tributary of the Sutlej, is normal”, Dorje said.
In 2000 flooding along the banks of the Sutlej had caused excessive damage to public and private properties.
According to official records 135 people and more than 1,700 heads of cattle perished during the unprecedented floods. In addition about 200 kilometers of roads were washed away, while 20 bridges and 22 cables were destroyed. The total losses at that time were estimated at over Rs. 1,400 crore.