Uttarakhand sees rise in weather-linked calamities: Data
Uttarakhand has reported an increase in weather-related calamities over the years with the state registering 7,750 extreme rainfall events and cloud bursts since 2015, most of them over the last three years, that have killed 230 people, state government data revealed. .
Data also showed that at least 161 people were killed in over 1,961 landslides reported in the last six years, leading experts to suggest that deteriorating geological conditions, besides climate crisis, were the reasons behind a spike in such incidents in the state.
Geologists said that conditions such as an altitude of over 1,200 metres, cliffs, ridges and funnel-shaped valleys with steep slope, cultivated land on the downhill side and dense forest cover on the uphill side prove to be favourable for cloudburst incidents and are found in plenty in the Himalayan state.
Geologist CC Pant, a retired professor from Kumaon university said cloudburst incidents, extreme rainfall events and landslides have definitely increased in Uttarakhand Himalayas over the years.
“One of the main reasons is climate change which is leading to heavy rain in short durations. When intense rainfall occurs in steep Himalayan terrain, it leads to landslides and cloudbursts. Sometimes, cloudbursts also happen because of heavy rain in a wide area over a hill which has a steep slope. As water and muck funnels towards a particular stream, it creates havoc downstream. The same rain in the plains may not cause that much damage. It may technically not be a cloudburst,” he said.
Experts studying cloudburst incidents in Uttarakhand admit that there has been a rise in such incidents, especially in the last one decade, and that such incidents continue to cause disruptions in the state.
In February this year, more than 200 people were killed after a glacier burst in Tapovan area led to a sudden rise in the water level of Dhauliganga river in Chamoli district and a flash flood. Many people and structures were swept away, along with a small hydro power plant in the incident.
On May 3, several houses were damaged after heavy rainfall triggered landslides and floods in Uttarkashi and Rudraprayag districts.
Days later, a cloudburst in Devprayag town in Tehri Garhwal washed away two local municipality buildings. On July 19, three persons, including a three-year-old girl, died following extreme rainfall in Uttarkashi district.
Explaining the reasons behind the rise in such incidents, Pant said hill cutting across Uttarakhand for constructions, development projects or activities such as the Char Dham road building causes slope instability, making them vulnerable to landslides.
“The actual (number of) landslidesmust be much higher as mostly we count the ones that happen on roads and in and around human habitations,” he said.
Speaking on similar lines, Anil Joshi, founder of Himalayan Environmental Studies and Conservation Organization, a Dehradun-based NGO, said: “In the last two decades, the bearing capacity of many mountains and Himalayan regions in the state has been exhausted. Hill cutting for various development projects and roads is destabilising the hill terrains. People are working and settling in vulnerable areas, something which has to stop. The government should also invest in early warning systems in all vulnerable areas of the state,” he said, adding: “The fragile Himalayas are responding to these warnings through extreme events.”
DP Dobhal, noted glaciologist and retired scientist from Wadia Institute of Himalayan Geology (WIHG), pointed out a change in the rainfall pattern in the Himalayas. “Over the last five decades or so, rainfall is ascending higher into the Himalayas which are witnessing less snow compared to the past. This translates into rain covering more areas in the Himalayas now,” he said.
A geologist at the state Disaster Mitigation and Management Centre (DMMC) said cloudburst or cloudburst-like incidents are primarily occurring in Pithoragarh, Rudraprayag and Chamoli districts.
“As I said earlier, before 2010, earthquakes were major disasters (in the region). After that, it is cloudbursts or extreme rainfall events which are claiming maximum lives in the Himalayan state,” the geologist, Sushil Khanduri, said.
Prof DC Pandey, another Kumaon-based geologist, said more research is required to understand the climatic conditions in the Himalayas and its impact on the state. “Data on various fronts needs to be studied for correlations and their cumulative effect on Himalayas,” he said.
However, Piyoosh Rautela, executive director Uttarakhand State Disaster Management Authority, said extreme rainfall, cloudburst events and landslides have been occuring in the Himalayas for millions of years.
“Data over a few decades is not enough to arrive at a definite long-term trend in the geological sense of time. We need more data about such events over long periods to understand exactly what is happening. For example, 90 % of the landslides that are reported are road landslides. But human loss from such events can be lessened by creating awareness that people should not settle or work in such vulnerable areas,” he said.
Besides the climate crisis, a surge in such weather events and death toll in the state is also partially due to lack of early warning systems, haphazard development projects, muck disposal into rivers, illegal mining activities, encroachment of seasonal streams, and population growth, experts said.