UTTARAKHAND FLOOD '13
The Himalayan Tsunami;
The recent cloudburst centered on the North Indian state of Uttarakhand caused devastating floods and
landslides - the country's worst natural disaster since the 2004 Tsunami.
The subsequent natural disaster in the form of massive inundation should make many of us sit up and
take notice. It is true that notwithstanding all disaster management plans, man is helpless against the
vagaries of nature also borne out by regular loss of lives and property.
The tardiness of the information flow undoubtedly reflects both the exceptionally difficult terrain in this
area and the magnitude of the damage. However, we can definitely be better prepared to face any
such contingency for minimising the losses and damages.
The clinched but hoary dictum rightly says, “prevention is always better than cure”.
From 14 to 17 June 2013, Uttarakhand and adjoining areas
received heavy rainfall, which was about 375 percent more
than the benchmark rainfall during a normal monsoon. This
caused the melting of Chorabari Glacier at the height of
3800 metres, and eruption of three rivers Yamuna, and
Ganga and its tributaries which led to heavy floods.
Though some parts of Himachal Pradesh, Haryana, Delhi and Uttar Pradesh in India,
some regions of Western Nepal, and some parts of Western Tibet also experienced heavy
rainfall, over 95% of the casualties occurred in Uttarakhand.
As of 16 July 2013, according to figures provided by the Uttarakhand government, more
than 5,700 people were "presumed dead" after more than a month of search. This total
included 934 local residents, and over 300 foreigners.
Destruction of bridges and roads left about 100,000 pilgrims and tourists trapped in the
valleys leading to three of the four Hindu Char Dham pilgrimage sites.
Exact figures are still not known – whether dead or missing – of the locals, the pilgrims,
the tourists, and the foreigners, and government officials fear that this exact number shall
never be known.
The Indian Air force, the Indian Army, and paramilitary troops evacuated more than
110,000 people from the flood ravaged areas.
Environmentalists describe the death and damages as a man-made disaster, while
geologists say the extent of destruction could have been lesser if strict regulations were
in place for all the human activities there, and if authorities had been adequately
equipped to deal with the situation .
It is not the first time that India has faced a tragedy at a religious site. With a large
number of devotees spread across faiths, congregating at pilgrimage sites during peak
seasons, these places become extremely vulnerable. The largest impact appears to have
occurred at Kedarnath, which at this time of year (June-July) is an important pilgrimage
Some blame is hence pointing towards improper, haphazard and inefficient
management or mismanagement of these pilgrimage tours.
Unplanned development is destroying the
ecology of the mountains.
None of the environmental laws are properly implemented in these ecologically
fragile areas, and development is going unabated. Construction of roads and
dams are the main reason for the plight of Himalayan ecosystem.
The mountains of Uttarakhand are fragile and
Hence, Uttarakhand is inherently
vulnerable to various kinds of disasters, such
as high intensity rainfall, cloud bursts,
landslides, flash floods and earthquakes. Its
geology is ridden with fault lines. Climate
change is increasing the frequency of extreme
events. Our developmental projects need to
take this reality into account.
However, no credible environmental, or
social impact assessment (EIA) for a single
project has been done — a fact that even our
former environment minister has accepted.
We do not have a credible public
consultation process; local people do not
even get the EIA in their language.
The forest cover in Uttarakhand in 1970
was 84.9%. This got reduced to 75.4%
A total forest area of 5391.17 Ha or
13,321.83 Acres were diverted for Hydel
projects. An year wise analysis shows
that after the year
maximum diversion of forest had been
done due to Tehri Dam, year 2002 has
witnessed largest forest diversion, but
the first 6 months of 2013 has witnessed
the third largest forest diversion for hydel
projects in Uttarakhand till date.
Rapid increase in the number of
hydroelectricity dams in these
fragile areas have led to the
disruption of water balance.
More than 220 power and
mining projects in 14 river
valleys have been carried out.
Construction is carried out
precautions to minimize the
risks of landslides.
or Destruction ?
A total of 427 dams are planned to be built on this
-roughly 70 projects built or proposed on the Ganga, all
to generate some 10,000 MW of power (which will
affect 80% of the Bhagirathi and 65% of the
For one dam, a stretch of 5-25 kms is being blasted
through the mountains – so wide that three trains
can pass simultaneously at the same time.
Hydropower projects increase the
scale of disaster
Almost all hydropower projects of Uttarakhand
involve deforestation. Deforestation directly
increases the potential of erosion, landslides and
floods since water now just runs off to the rivers.
All run of the river projects involve building
of a dam, diversion structure, de-silting
mechanism, as also roads, townships, mining,
among other components.
Our environment compliance system is
non-existing. The projects are supposed to
implement the environment management plan pari
passu with the project work, they are supposed to
follow the conditions of environment clearance,
follow the environmental norms but officials
refuse to take action.
The question is not that hydropower projects
should not be built at all, but is what and how
much should be built. The question also is how
the projects should be constructed so that
impacts can be minimised.
Experts say the main indicator of the thriving
real estate business in Uttarakhand is the way
river beds are mined for boulders, pebbles, sand
On June 13, 2011, Swami Nigamanand who had
been fasting for 68 days in protest against the
indiscriminate and illegal mining on the Ganga
river bed by a local quarrying and sand mining
Data with the Uttarakhand State Transport
Department confirms - In 2005-06, 4,000
vehicles were registered, which jumped to
40,000 in 2012-13.
It is an established fact that there is a straight
co-relation between tourism increase and
higher incidence of landslides.
The Govt. of Uttarakhand spends Rs. 70 crores every year
(as per books) in order to manage tourism in Uttarakhand. .
Every year an approx. 3 crores people visit Uttarakhand, but
there is room for only about 2 lakh people. There is a
permit system in Amarnath and Mansarovar yatras. Even for
Vaishno Devi trip, there is a crowd management in place.
But, there is no such system here.
The number of tourists visiting Uttarakhand
since 2000 has increased by 155 per cent,
according to data from the Uttarakhand
Non-existent governing authority: No governing
The annual number of tourists visiting the
state now is 28 million; the state's population
is half this number.
authority has been set up to manage pilgrim tourists
visiting “char dham”. There is not even a Nodal
Officer who can monitor the yatra arrangements.
"Monsoon has hit the entire nation early by one month. It is
by July 15 that all parts of India receive rains. This year that
day came as early as June 15," said Shailesh Nayak, secretary,
Ministry of Earth Sciences.
There was rainfall of 120 mm in 24 hours before the flash
flood of June 16 at Kedarnath. The town and the glacier above
are 3 km apart. There is evidence that a small lake was formed
during the rains above Kedarnath town.
The lake burst due to a breach in the blockade that formed its
boundary. Coupled with heavy rain in the area, this caused
flash flood, excessive stream run-off and a third channel was
During the 1960s, the day and night
temperature on mountains was the same.
But in the last decade, the day temperature
has increased considerably as compared to
the night temperature thus building the
situation of cloud bursting and flash floods.
Inaccurate and incomplete prediction & lack of action plans.
Monitoring, forecasting, and early-warning systems in the Met department are very
poor in the whole of India and Uttarakhand specifically. The warning given by Met
dept. in Delhi was ignored. Only eight states have prepared emergency action plans
for 192 dams as against 4,728 dams in 29 states, and inflow forecasts critical to
mitigate risks from floods are available for only 28 reservoirs.
Uttarakhand Chief Minister Vijay Bahugun said ‘that the Disaster
Management Committee in the state had not met for six years
and they were not at all prepared to handle such a huge
The National Disaster Communication Network and the National
Disaster Management Informatics System are still in the planning
stage, seven years after conceptualization.
The cloudburst could not be forecast or sighted because
the Doppler Weather Radars bought for surveillance of
severe and weather system is not operational.
Only 4,000 army personnel
had been deployed on duty.
And only 100 police men were
trained in emergency medical
procedures while there was no
one who was trained to
manage a natural calamity.
Rescue teams were using
satellite phones of the Army is
communication network is not
The army and ITBP had to
be called in because
NDRF is hampered by
shortage of manpower.
Worse, only seven states
had a State Disaster
Early warnings ignored...
One of the scientific studies of 1,317 glaciers by Indian Defense Research Organization
in 10 sub-basins since 1962 of Indian Himalayan region finds 16% glaciers shrank during
last 50 years. This study finds that in 100 years period there is 1.6°c rise in
temperature, the precipitation rate has increased and rate of snowfall decreased,
leading to reduced river discharge.
Wildlife Institute of India report (2012) recommended that 24 of the 70 Upper
Ganga projects should be shelved because of their high ecological impact. They
together affect nearly 10,000 hectares of land in this small state, and submerge
more than 3,600 hectares of forests.
Landslides due to the floods, damaged several houses and structures, killing those who were
trapped. The heavy rains resulted in large flash floods and massive landslides. Environment
engineer and Ganga crusader, G D Agarwal, says that construction along the Ganga has certainly
cost a lot more if one includes the cost of damage to environment. People have completely
destroyed the ecology of the mountains. “We see more landslides nowadays because of unplanned
development in the hills,” he says.
The Himalayan region consists of
extremely fragile ecosystems, and
source to 10 major Asian river systems.
1.3 billion people rely for sustenance,
water, livelihoods and prosperity, and
this flood primarily means loss of major
parts of that.
95% of the casualties occurred in Uttarakhand.
90 per cent of cash crops, particularly the apple crop, has been completely
destroyed by the floods.
Loss to the public and private property estimate around Rs 2,575 crores as
mentioned by the government, June 30, 2013. Insurance companies are
looking at claims worth more than Rs 1,000 crore
Hundreds of porters and over 2,000 ponies are still untraceable. A total of
2145 animal loss and 185 animal owners have been affected.
The mountains of Uttarakhand are fragile and new. Hence, Uttarakhand is inherently vulnerable to various
kinds of disasters, such as high intensity rainfall, cloud bursts, landslides, flash floods and earthquakes. Its
geology is ridden with fault lines. Climate change is increasing the frequency of extreme events.
Developmental projects need to take this reality into account.
Hydro projects have magnified the effects of heavy rain in Uttarakhand. Mismanagement of operations of
the Tehri dam has led to floods in downstream areas.
The situation in Uttarakhand is a clear evidential proof of how much damage could be caused when
natural balance is disturbed.
This is just another example of climate change where rapid deforestation could be one of the factors
along with a large scale disturbance to hydrological cycle.
The scenario in Uttarakhand must raise a question not only the government's pro-clearance attitude
towards the large number of dams coming up in the state but the credibility of EIA or Environmental Impact
Assessment Reports, based on which a large number of such projects are still getting the nod after much
opposition by environment activists.
What the Wildlife Institute of India has to say:
What Environmentalists and Activists have to say:
Containing such Himalayan Tsunamis
Firstly, the Met. department needs to be better equipped to site early
warning signs, and so do all national climate panels, so as to be better
prepared to tackle inevitable situations with strategic action plans.
Development should be regulated and should stir free from scarring the
ecology of the region. The fragility of terrains such as Uttarakhand's must
be taken into account.
There is need for the development of mechanisms for better management
of tourism and the tourist.
There is definitely a lack of coordination for disaster management strategies
at the local level.
Floods may be inevitable, but that doesn't mean they can't be managed.
There is an urgent need of forming a ‘National Board for Himalayan
Conservation and Development’ for integrated development of the
Himalayas. Anil joshi, environmentalist.
Proper land use policies should also be framed in order to
regulate construction activities in the floodplains of the rivers.
development of the region: proper
representation of ‘Van Panchayats’
on the National Board for
Development and for the running of
the programmes on the cultivation
of medicinal plants and employment
Application of remote sensing
technology for the development of
holistic data base for agriculture,
landscapes and other natural
resources for the sustainable
management of Himalayas should
be in place.
Green Development: We need to
concentrate on areas like water-shed
development and afforestation.
Green development is far more
sustainable and equitable than profit
Lastly, these calamities and destruction
may primarily be caused by nature but
they are man-made too.
→ Global warming, greenhouse effect,
melting of glaciers, deforestation etc., to
We don't realise the extent of the
circumstances of our own activities.