The shocking collapse of part of a glacier in Uttarakhand’s Nanda Devi mountain has raised alarm and should prompt a review of how the Himalayas are treated. The glacier burst is seen as an outcome of insensitivity of the government in executing the development projects particularly the construction of hydropower projects.
The floods that have ensued claimed many lives, the definite count of which is yet to be known and may take quite some time given the fact that around 200 people are still missing almost a week after the tragedy took place. The staggering tragedy comes as a deadly reminder that this fragile, geologically dynamic region can never be taken for granted. Various studies carried out in recent years have shown that the glaciers have been losing the equivalent of more than a vertical foot and half of the ice each year since 2000, double the amount of melting that took place from 1975 to 2000.
Over the years many dams have been constructed in the region. By one estimate, if the plan to construct dams in 28 river valleys in the mountains is realised in a few decades, the Himalayas will have one dam for every 32 km, among the world’s highest densities. The researchers have warned that this may be a miscalculation for reasons, including potential earthquake impacts, monsoonal aberrations that could repeat massive floods, severe biodiversity loss and importantly, extreme danger to people putting up downstream. In this backdrop, a massive earthquake jolted Jammu and Kashmir also and details are loss are no known immediately. While there is a need to study the impact of policy on the Himalayas, a robust forecast system is also needed to be augmented. In this context, the government of J&K has joined hands with UK Space Agency’s programme for collaborative project on ‘Impact Based Flood Forecasting using Earth Observation (EO) based Information’ and it is significant step.
A recent report has put India among the 10 most disaster prone countries in the world and ranked floods as a climate related hazard posing the greatest risk to the people. India has numerous flood forecasting systems that provide predictions of water levels and flows but not their impact in terms of loss of life, damage to buildings, critical infrastructure and agriculture.
The impact-based forecasts of flood risk will be useful for efficient, effective contingency planning and swift evaluation of the severity for a necessary response, the officials said.
The mechanism is tipped to predict impacts to people, their houses, crops, livestock, and transport routes and such mitigating many of the challenges, people face during flood events. The government should be hailed for the decision but the endeavor is this regard for better predictions should continue.