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3 pm Jun 19, 2013

Why is Uttarakhand so prone to natural disasters?

Uttarakhand has always been prone to earthquakes, cloud bursts or flooding. While Himachal and J&K are also entirely mountainous states, they do not experience the wrath of nature as frequently as Uttarakhand does. Hundreds are dead, several hundreds more missing and thousands stranded as entire villages have been washed away in massive rains. It is time to understand whether this is a fallout of indiscriminate construction of dams and buildings, coupled with massive deforestation. Can anything be done to prevent such occurrences in future?
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16 questions answered | 3 questions pending
  • What is the Budget lay out in these northern states for disaster mgmt.Is there any sufficient back up insurance cover to mitigate the economic losses ? Asked by: sundar1950in
  • Himanshu Thakkar Sundar, You have lots of questions! I have answered most of yours in other answers. I agree people need to wake up and demand answers from government and themselves. About disaster management plans, some of them are in place, but there is little coordination of them with the state development plans. I do not have budget and insurance figures...
  • What, according to you, are some of the immediate priority actions that need to be taken to reduce the impact of such disasters in the state? Asked by: S
  • Himanshu Thakkar 1. Put in place a credible warning and forecasting mechanism. 2. Review of ongoing development works and scrap those that are going to increase the disaster and damage potential. 3. Put in place well defined Disaster Management Plan, with standard operating procedures that would kick in when there is either warning of incidence of disaster. 4. Credible cumulative impact assessment, including carrying capacity study for each river basin, for all existing and under construction projects, stop all new projects till than, including those where not more than 20% money is spent, till this is done. 5. Assess buildings and hotels in the river bed and phase them out before next monsoon, similarly assess other risky structures. The list can be longer....
  • We saw the waters, the silt and the rolling boulders. What can all that silt do to the dams? Are these dams made to withstand such ferocity? The dams at AsiGanga were washed away in last years floods. Asked by: Valli Bindana
  • Himanshu Thakkar Yes, Valli, Last year AsiGanga projects were washed away. Smaller projects wont be in position to take the onslought. But larger projects may, but over the longer run, their capacity to take all that muck will also reduce. There could also be consequences like the current submergence of the Dhouliganga project.
  • Why the Uttarakhand government is in opposition to making the 100 Kms ecological sensitive area? Is it not for the benefit of environment? Asked by: Amit Gupta
  • Himanshu Thakkar Amit, Indeed the 135 km Bhagirathi eco sensitive zone is very much in the interest of the people, environment and state of Uttarakhand. The Hydropower lobby is largely behind the opposition to the proposal, I think.
  • A lack of regulation, I feel is responsible for the loss of lives. Past experience over the years have taught that these areas witness severe flooding when the river swells up with the increased inflow - yet there are buildings and other similar establishments in that area. The infrastructure is still poor - why cant the government/authorities ensure better disaster management plans and also stop these buildings and other structures from being constructed like this - what are the bottlenecks in this count? Asked by: Srikanth
  • Himanshu Thakkar Yes, Srikanth, Lack of credible regulation and coordination across different departments and actors is an important issue. The lack of political will, due to lack of sufficient pressure from the people I think is most important reason for we not making much progress in that direction.
  • Don't you feel indiscriminate deforestation over the past 2-3decades in the Himalayan states is the root cause of these landslides and unbridled floods> Asked by: T T Krishnan
  • Himanshu Thakkar Krishnan, Deforestation increases the landslide and flood potential. Uttarakhand is by its very situation prone to landslides and floods. Deforestation certainly adds to it.
  • How can we marry industrialisation with nature preservation? Will this help a state like Uttarakhand? Asked by: Sridhar Bhamidi
  • Himanshu Thakkar Whatever interventions we are planning in the region, if we do not take the various geo-ecological realities into account, we could be increasing the damage potential of any natural phenomena.
  • I refuse to believe that uttarakhand received 375% of its monsoon quota in such a short spell, and our www.imd.gov.in could not see it coming. Its a repeat of the Ladakh floods which were on the periphery of the great Indus flood in Pakistan, they didnt see it coming then as well. infact they never see it coming. Life in India is cheap, its why we dont have credible weather stations, and our Directors at the IMD go scot free, no questions asked. Havent seen this question asked on any news channel yet Asked by: Somna
  • Himanshu Thakkar Yes, Somna, IMD has singularly failed in predicting the onset of monsoon or the quantum of rains and also the cloud burst and they are going scot free. In addition there are agencies like NDMA, Central Water Commission, State Disaster Dept, which are also responsible. The Ministry of Env and FOrests is responsible for the indiscriminate clearances to various projects without any credible impact assessment or compliance mechanism in place. We need much great democracy in our governance.
  • Why is Uttarakhand so prone to natural disasters? Asked by: Priya
  • Himanshu Thakkar Priya, The very nature of geological, topographical, geomorphological and seismic situation in Uttarakhand makes it prone to large kinds of disasters. It is part of young Himalayan mountain, prone to landslides, erosion and flash floods. When you add the heavy infrastructure building going on without taking into account the basic character of the area, the disaster potential increases.
  • For the sake of votes governments sanction projects, traders out of greediness build concrete structures to cash in the tourism and in the process mess up the fragile ecology.Was this not waiting to happen? Asked by: lsakuntala
  • Himanshu Thakkar Yes, Isakuntala, The way buildings and hotels have encroached the river bed and flood plains, they were certainly inviting disaster in terms of their collapse. This has been apparent over the years, including in the report of the Uttarakhand govt report after the Uttarkashi flash floods in Aug 2012, where the report actually asked for a legislation and its strict implementation to ensure that no construction, including roads are allowed next to the river, even in case of roads they have said it should be avoided as much as possible since roads and rivers together than attract unscrupulous elements. Even in this disaster, the govt has accepted that many of the buildings that have collapsed were illegal and wont get compensation. The question is, in that case, what were the Uttarakhand govt, State Disaster dept and NDMA doing?
  • Sir can we link these frequent cloud bursts to environmental destruction in the Himalayas? Asked by: Marthand Bindana
  • Himanshu Thakkar Marthand, It is difficult to link the frequent cloud bursts themselves to the environmental destruction. However, the disaster and damage potential of the cloud bursts and flash floods increase due to the environmental destruction in the Himalayas.
  • Himanshu, the intensity and timing of this deluge surprised us. Do you think this is climate change at work? Will we see more of this in the future? And if so, what will the state of the dams be? Asked by: Valli Bindana
  • Himanshu Thakkar Yes, Valli, the timing, intensity and spread of the event is unprecedented. Climate science does tell us that there will certainly be greater frequency of such events in future, but to the best of my understanding, the science is not in a position to conclude that specific event is due to climate change. More projects in the area are likely to increase the climate link disaster risks and in turn these projects will also face the consequences of the same, as Dhauliganga project of NHPC is facing today, Tehri is facing today in terms of increased siltation and projects on Assiganga are facing in terms of damages, among others.
  • Are more dams an answer to control floods? Asked by: Joe
  • Himanshu Thakkar Surely not. But what we need is local rainwater capturing and recharging mechanisms wherever possible. These little dams, in large number can help to some extent. We also need to allow the rivers space to flow, which we are not allowing. More dams could be invitation to more disasters. In fact the Sept 2010 floods in Bhagirathi and Ganga were DUE to wrong operation of Tehri dam, there are other examples from elsewhere in the country.
  • Would better storm water management systems; regular maintenance, pre and post monsoon have mitigated the recent deluge? To what end, are building practices regulated in hazard prone areas? Asked by: Samji
  • Himanshu Thakkar Hi Samji, Yes, proper and functioning drainage system, including the components you list would certainly help. The Uttarakhand disaster management department report of Oct 2012, following the last year's landslides in Okhimath area in Rudraprayag says that local people actually have their own drainage system so that there is least erosion and landslides. However, the current infrastructure building is not taking any of these into account, while allowing indiscriminate building activities, the evidence of that in front of us in the form of collapsing of the buildings like card boards. The requires norms are largely known, but there are no credible mechanisms in place to ensure their implementation.
  • IT is incorrect to say an area is prone to natural disasters. Are these disasters not man made,knowing very well the nature of the area? Asked by: sundar1950in
  • Himanshu Thakkar Sundar, The rainfall and cloud bursts are largely natural phenomena and Uttarakhand is prone to such events, man made climate change is going to increase the frequency of such events, scientists tell us. However, knowing this, our infrastructure development, warning and forecasting systems, disaster preparedness and management systems with clearly defined operating procedures and accountability mechanism should have been in place, none of them is. Secondly, there is no attempt to learn from the past experience of disasters. Thirdly, the development plans need to be adjusted to this reality. And lastly, illegal encroachment of the rivers is surely invitation to disaster.
  • It is said that construction of a large number of dams on Ganga and other rivers in the Himalayas has resulted in this catastrophe. Is this true? How do dams cause floods? Asked by: rajesh
  • Himanshu Thakkar Hi Rajesh, In a state like Uttarakhand, which is prone to disasters like cloud bursts, flash floods, land slides, the indiscriminate building of hundreds of hydropower projects in this state, each project entailing dam, tunnels that need to be blasted through, the roads, townships and deforestation, the disaster and damage potential goes up multi fold, particularly when there are no credible environment of social impact assessments at project or basin leve, nor any carrying capacity study, nor any credible compliance mechanisms. Even the wrong operation of projects can add to the disaster potential.

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Himanshu Thakkar
Coordinator, South Asian Network on Dams, Rivers and People

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Himanshu Thakkar
Coordinator, South Asian Network on Dams, Rivers and People

Why is Uttarakhand so prone to natural disasters?