Water, water everywhere. Not a drop to drink.
What was the cause of the havoc in Uttarakhand?
In Uttarakhand, a state bestowed with a lot of natural beauty, the fragility of many local ecosystems were completely ignored while developing vast tracts and areas of land, especially very close to rivers. Deforestation on a very large scale immediately removes the natural safety of trees and roots that will absorb and hold a great deal of rain water, and sustain a release to the rivers over a longer period of time.
In India, the prospect of making money drives many to ignore long term gains, and very often, too much importance is given to making investments yield returns in as short a period as possible. To get a new project cleared, bribes often replace due process, and clearances are obtained by taking shortcuts, imagining that such actions have no real consequences.
Well, here are the consequences.
This is not something going wrong. This is exactly what is supposed to happen when incessant heavy rain causes soil erosion on a massive scale, and washes out entire neighborhoods, villages, and parts of towns. It doesn't matter what depth the foundation was laid, when a river rises in level fifty feet in less than twenty four hours. Without the deforestation, the soil would be held together by the roots, and such areas can easily hold flood waters above them, till waters recede.
Instead, what we saw was poor planning, poorer and apathetic execution, and haphazard development - all washed away by a simple shower by Mother Nature.
Above and beyond the above, the Himalayas are a very young mountain range, and growing in height. As the Indian plate shoves up against the Chinese plate, the impact and the sheer force of shifting geological mass renders many areas inherently susceptible to dramatic failures in the event of quakes and tremors. Many tall and deep gorges have unsafe masses of stone and sand, held loosely together.
Religious tourism is a mad rush, and has changed dramatically from many shrines being visited by foot travellers, to an organized assault involving roads, vehicles and massive infrastructure to support a highly scaled up operation. While this sort of increase may simply put a strain on resources in some other part of India, in an ecologically sensitive area like Uttarakhand, the damage tends to be exaggerated.
Development brings demands, and hydroelectric projects mushroomed, clearly without enough due consideration for environmental impact, despite warnings. This is not a one off wake up call for India. Many more disasters are waiting to happen. There is no escaping the consequences of stupidity.
Historical significance of places in Uttarakhand where disaster was more severe . Damage at Kendranath town
Measures taken by government
As many as 33,152 persons have been moved to safer areas in massive relief and rescue operations launched by the Central and state governments in few days to tackle the unprecedented situation caused by flash floods.
“The Air Force has deployed 13 aircraft taking the number of aircraft for relief and rescue operations to 43,” I&B Minister Manish Tewari told reporters here.
Tewari said the Railways along with the Uttarakhand government has also offered to send all stranded passengers free of cost to their respective destinations.
The Indian Air Force has deployed its heavylift Mi-26 helicopters to transport fuel and heavy equipment required by the Border Roads Organisation (BRO) to clear roads closed due to landslide.
The IAF has also activated advanced landing grounds at Dharasu and Gaucher and set up an airbridge to evacuate stranded persons. Besides the Army, personnel of the Sashastra Seema Bal, Indo-Tibetan Border Police, National Disaster Relief Force, BRO have been engaged in search, rescue and relief efforts.
Efforts were also on to operationalise 207 mobile towers of 739 such installations in the three affected districts of Chamoli, Rudraprayag and Uttarkashi.
As many as 207 mobile towers in the three districts were knocked down by the fury of the floods. Petroleum Ministry has set up aircraft refuelling centres at Rampur, Shimla and Gaucher and efforts were being made to make available LPG cylinders to people in affected areas.
“Trucks carrying LPG cylinders have been despatched from refuelling depots at Haridwar and Haldwani on June 17, 18 and 19,” Tewari said, adding supply of motor spirit, diesel and superior kerosene oil was also being augmented. He said in the affected districts of Chamoli, Rudraprayag and Uttarkashi, 209 of a total of 739 mobile towers are down and they are likely to be made operational in the next 24 hours.
Department of Telecom has also issued instructions to all telecom companies that the toll free public utility emergency numbers must be operational and accessible to customers in affected areas by this evening.
To a poser on whether like Congress he expects other political parties to donate a month’s salary of their MPs and MLAs for Uttarakhand relief fund, he said he would leave it to their discretion.
After The Deluge..!!
Life is yet to return to normal in Uttarakhand, a 2-3 month after it was hit by extreme rains, floods and landslides. The events of last month raise a number of questions that must be answered to ensure that such destruction is not repeated. It is not just Uttarakhand that needs to learn its lessons, but all states spanning the entire length of the Himalayas.
India needs to have a separate disaster management and mitigation strategy for the Himalayan region. The world's youngest mountain range is distinct in its character and chemistry, and a business as usual approach can only lead to more disasters. Down To Earth takes a critical look at the deluge and the lessons it offers