Experts in India say 'mindful development' needed to prevent disasters in Himalayas

Monitoring and proper planning needed for executing developmental projects in Indian Himalayan Region

16:34 - 13/10/2021 Wednesday
File photo
File photo
Experts in India have called for proper planning and monitoring during infrastructure development in the Indian Himalayan Region to prevent disasters.

Speaking to Anadolu Agency in conjunction with the International Day for Disaster Risk Reduction, observed on Wednesday, they believe that climate change and an increase in improperly planned developmental projects are the primary reasons behind a rise in disasters in the Himalayas that have the largest number of glaciers outside the poles.

"To prevent disasters, it is imperative to focus on monitoring and planning while undertaking developmental projects in the mountains . We know that we are in a fragile zone, so we have to take very small things under consideration," said DP Dobhal, a former senior glaciologist from India's Wadia Institute of Himalayan Geology who has studied Himalayan glaciers for decades.

"The entire focus should be on the prevention of unplanned development. It looks like we are in the race of development, but we need to keep in mind that we have to save the Himalayas."

Earlier this year, a flash flood rushed through a valley in India’s Himalayan Uttarakhand state, damaging dam project sites and killing over 200 people. In 2013, massive floods in the state were caused by extreme rainfall, and an eventual Glacial Lake Outburst Flood resulted in the country's worst natural disaster since a tsunami in 2004 that killed 5,700 people.

Local English daily Hindustan Times, citing data reported last month, said Uttarakhand has reported an increase in "weather-related calamities," and since 2015, the state has registered 7,750 extreme rainfall events and cloud bursts that killed 230 people.

Dobhal agreed that of late, extreme weather events have increased in the Himalayas.

"The most important contributing factor is the unplanned development taking place in the Himalayas. Then you have the climate change factor. For example, now there is a change in the pattern of monsoon rainfall," he said.

He said that in the snowbound areas, glaciers are retreating and melting fast as a result of climate change. "Due to climate change, we are seeing long summers and short winters. ... It also becomes a reason for various disasters."

Stating that the Himalayas are very fragile and the youngest mountain chain on Earth, Dobhal maintains that these mountains are still active.

"So a lot of activities are taking place in the Himalayas. We need to be more careful while planning developmental projects in the region."

Kavita Upadhyay, a water policy and environmental expert, said the reasons behind very heavy rainfall instances, flash floods, or landslides differ across the Indian Himalayan Region.

"Many of these instances may be due to climate change. However, it is important to understand that every hazardous event may not necessarily be due to climate change," she said.

She noted that in some instances, dangerous methods of development like using explosives for project construction may weaken mountains and increase landslide risk.

"Similarly, muck dumped into rivers during the construction of projects such as roads could worsen flood-related disasters," said Upadhyay.

- Increase in hydropower projects

According to experts, hydropower projects constructed without proper climate change or earthquake-related assessments may result in disasters.

"The Uttarakhand disaster of Feb. 7 this year is a case in point, where a flood damaged two hydropower projects in the state's Chamoli region," Upadahya cited an example.

"The existing norms for the construction of infrastructure projects are rarely followed, which can have dire consequences for the people living near or downstream of such projects. This is what happened in Chamoli, and this has been noted across the Indian Himalayan Region," Dobhal echoed her views.

"Sometimes they are taking very few parameters into consideration. Then when they start the work, it creates a lot of problems like landslides and flash floods," he said.

" Even though if we build (only) small hydropower projects when an avalanche or landslides take place, they still cause big incidents ."

- How is climate change playing a role in these disasters?

Upadahya said the role of climate change in various hazardous events cannot be generalized.

"Every disaster in the Himalaya should not be attributed to climate change without proper evidence. Only research can exactly explain the impact of climate change in various hazardous events and eventual disasters. However, glaciers are melting faster due to climate change, which may lead to water security-related issues in the Indian Himalayan Region," she said.

"Also, glacial lakes are increasing in size and number, which increases risks associated with glacial lake outburst floods. Extreme weather events are also frequently being witnessed in the Himalayas, which increases the risk of floods and landslides."

Upadhyay said that only after proper assessments, infrastructure projects should be allowed in the region.

"Norms must be followed during project construction, and installation of early warning systems must be ensured," she added.

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