The Uttarakhand Disaster

BY RINT SEBASTIAN

2013 North India floods

In June 2013, a multi-day cloudburst centered on the North Indian state of Uttarakhand caused devastating floods and landslides in the country's worst natural disaster since the 2004 tsunami. Though some parts of Himachal Pradesh,Haryana, Delhi and Uttar Pradesh in India experienced the flood, over 95% of the casualties occurred in Uttarakhand.

Consequences

Landslides, due to the floods, damaged several houses and structures, killing those who were trapped.The roads were seriously damaged at more than 450 places, resulting in huge traffic jams, and the floods caused many cars and other vehicles to be washed away. Many hotels, rest houses and shops around the temple in Kedarnath township were destroyed, resulting in several casualties.

608 villages, covering a population of 700,000, in 23 districts of Uttar Pradesh were affected by the flood and As of 11 July 2013 more than 120 deaths were reported from the state.

Reasons for the disaster

Floods of Uttarakhand are a combination of both natural and man made causes.


  • NATURAL CAUSES: The floods were essentially caused by heavy rainfall in Uttarakhand in mid-June.
  1. Early monsoon : The early onset of monsoon caught people unawares (hence causing significant damage to life and property)
  2. Extreme rainfall event: Global warming lead to extreme rainfall.
  3. Widespread rains : widespread rains in these regions are also not as exceptional as the flood fury suggests. Heavy rains at the start of monsoon: It seems to us that heavy rains rarely occur in Uttarakhand at the very start of monsoon.
MAN-MADE CAUSES: A large number of commentaries have highlighted several factors of significance - rampant deforestation, slope cutting, blasting of rocks, haphazard disposal of debris, and riverbank constructions.


  • The conventional manner of constructing dams–involving rock blasting, careless disposal of debris, deforestation, etc.–may be major factors that promoted the high flood waves in Uttarakhand, but not the dams themselves. In fact, dams may actually provide safety against floods.

Historical significance of places in Uttarakhand where disaster was more severe

Pilgrimage centers in the region, including Gangotri, Yamunotri, Kedarnath and Badrinath, the hallowed Hindu Chardham (four sites) pilgrimage centers, are visited by thousands of devotees, especially after the month of May onward. Over 70,000 people were stuck in various regions because of damaged or blocked roads. People in other important locations like the Valley of flowers, Roopkund and the Sikh pilgrimage centre Hemkund were stranded for more than three days.

Steps taken by the government

  • 33,152 persons have been moved to safer areas in massive relief and rescue operations launched by the Central and state governments
  • Railways along with the Uttarakhand government has also offered to send all stranded passengers free of cost to their respective destinations.
  • India Air Force had deployed 43 aircraft including 636 helicopters.
  • The Indian Air Force has deployed its heavy lift Mi-26 helicopters to transport fuel and heavy equipment required to clear roads closed due to landslide.
  • Besides the Army, Indo-Tibetan Border Police, National Disaster Relief Force, BRO have been engaged in search, rescue and relief efforts.