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What Happened In Uttarakhand ?


This year started on a positive note with the number of Covid -19 cases and their symptoms decreasing rapidly and vaccines being rolled out in massive numbers all around the globe. Unfortunately, before we could completely finish defeating the virus and celebrate the progress, we had already made another calamity struck. This time in the form of avalanche and glacier burst resulting in heavy floods at a place which has a long history of frequent natural calamities. The place is none other than the Indian mountainous state of Uttarakhand.

Overview

The floods started on the 7th February 2021 when a portion of the Nanda Devi Glacier broke off. This glacier burst caused an avalanche and deluge and a sudden flood in the Dhauli Ganga, Rishi Ganga and Alaknanda rivers. The Alaknanda rivers are all intricately linked tributaries of the sacred river Ganges thus triggered widespread panic and devastation in the high mountainareas. Severe damage was also done to Vishnugad hydel project and the Rishi Ganga Hydel NTPC’s Tapovan- Project both of which are very important power projects and are of immense importance to the region. Various reports suggests that at least 58 people have died and as more as 200 have been reported missing.


Causes & Reasons

Various reports suggest that the floods have been caused by a portion of the Nanda Devi Glacier breaking off in the early hours of 7th February releasing the water which was trapped behind the ice and used a glacial lake outburst flood. The floods were caused by a phenomena scientifically known as Glacial Lake Outburst Floods (GLOF). Satellite imagery and on ground account have been used to come to the conclusions that a hanging glacier had separated from the mountain and plummeted down the Ronti Gad, which is a tributary of the Rishi Ganga. Satellite images also show a scar which is visible on the slopes of Nanda Ghunti peak on the South Western rim of the Nanda Devi Sanctuary. Damage Caused


The floods have caused widespread damage both in terms of life and infrastructure. The Rishi Ganga power project situated on the Rishi Ganga River, a tributary of Dhauli Ganga was severely damaged. The district of Chamoli in Uttarakhand is the worst effected district in the state due to the surging Dhauliganga River. The Dhauli Ganga river’s power and intensity became so much that the Dhauliganga dam situated on the confluence of the RishiGanga and the Dhauliganga was completely washed away. According to a statement by the Chief Minister Trivendra Singh Rawat the flash floods also impacted a much larger hydro power project owned by the NTPC where due to the damage 176 workers had been trapped in the two tunnels of the project. Senior officials from the police issued a statement that a bridge in the Tapovan area that connected 13 villages was completely washed away. Among the places most severely hit by the floods are Joshimath, Rini, Nanda Devi National Park, Tapovan Vishnugad Hydropower Plant and Sridhar. All in all, according to the union power minister the floods have caused a total estimate damage of around 1500 Crore INR. The widespread loss of life and property has also triggered a panic and hysteria in the region.


Aid and Relief Efforts

Chief Minster Trivendra Singh Rawat released 20 Crores INR from the State Disaster Relief Fund (SDRF) for the relief and rescue operation. Many villages were evacuated and two dams were emptied to stop the floodwaters from reaching the towns of Haridwar and Rishikesh. The Chief Minister also announced Rs. 4 lakhs as compensation for the kin of the deceased. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has also announced ex-gratia of Rs. 2 Lakh for the family of those killed in the disaster and Rs. 50000 to the injured. The rescue operation at the Tapovan hydel project tunnel in Uttarakhand, Chamoli is underway. Joint teams comprising about 1,000 officials and personnel from different Central and State agencies are currently involved in the search, rescue and relief operations.

Conclusion

The floods have caused great damage of life and property at a time when the Covid -19 Pandemic is still looming over us. This disaster and its related effects could cause a spike in the number of new cases in the state which would in turn effect the entire country negatively. There are sources which say that the breaking and subsequent falling off of the glacier is a result of the gradual melting of the glacier which has been going on for quite some time now. Some reports also say that it is due to the extensive construction and road building near the rivers. There is however one fact which is completely clear i.e., Uttarakhand is one of the most disaster prone stated in India. From the 1991 Uttarkashi earthquake to the 1998 Malpa Landslide to the 1999 Chamoli Earthquake to the 2013 North India Floods, the state has a high frequency of occurrence of natural disasters. Multiple steps and measures need to be taken to improve the response of such calamities. The effectiveness of the implementation of these measures also needs to be improved. Also predicting such disasters well before time is also another way through which the loss of life and property can be minimized. This incident which happened in the Himalayas at Rishi Ganga is matter of both concern and warming. This glacier avalanche and the resulting floods are the most recent example of the disastrous effects of climate change on our planet. It has become clear is that construction of dams and other mega-infrastructure in the ecologically sensitive Himalayas and in close proximity to the region’s glaciers exacerbates the risks of disaster. It is true that the timing of the disaster could not have been worse but we all must still do our part to help the residents and people of Uttarakhand and all those who are affected by these floods. Nature’s fury turned a tranquil morning into a tragedy. Now it is our responsibility to make sure that the people can regain what they have lost. It is also our responsibility to take care of the environment and take more precautions before construction of structures and roads in mountainous areas, so that incidents like this can be prevented in the future. Let us all make an oath to help the people effected in any way we can and also do whatever we can to make sure such incidents do not take place in the future.


~ Shaurya Mahajan

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