This past week we just completed seven years since the worst ever flood disaster in Himalayas, the Uttarakhand-Himachal Flood disaster that got launched with the massive unseasonal rainfall during June 15-17, 2013, along with the Glacial Lake Outburst Flood from Chorabari glacier upstream from Kedarnath. It was a massive wake up call.
To briefly recall, that unprecedented rainfall occurred when monsoon had not even set in Uttarakhand and neighbouring Himachal Pradesh. The first thing that strikes about this disaster where by official accounts over 6000 people died and by unofficial accounts over 20 000, is that we do not even have a comprehensive report from the government about this disaster. It would have told us a lot of things, including what we can learn from this disaster.
Second big thing that strikes is that big dams and hydropower projects, both due to their construction and operation impacts, both completed and under construction projects played a big role, as brief SANDRP video films in English and Hindi shows. But we continue to play with the Himalayas, the Ganga and lives of the lakhs of people by pushing more dams and such destructive activities (e.g. Char Dham Highways) in the fragile mountains without even honest impact assessments.
Thirdly, we continue to push massive projects that would make huge contributions to climate change. The recent coal mining activities that no one really needs or the completely unviable and unwanted hydropower and dams projects that the Prime Minister’s office pushes, like Athirapally, Bodhghat, Cauvery (Mekedatu), Dibang, Etalin, to name a few. All this in the name of short term flogging of the economic growth, but as past records show even that won’t be really achieved.
Fourthly, as we see the onset of monsoon this month through most of the nation, the remaining parts expected to cover before the end of the month, what strikes one is the business as usual approach in terms of preparedness and disaster management plans or programs. The big reservoirs monitored by Central Water Commission had unprecedentedly high storage, even before the monsoon starts. With dam induced floods happening every year with increasing frequency and intensity, the high storages are major risk for dam induced disasters. Shockingly, the big dam lobby at the Central Water Commission or Ministry of Water Resources refuses to accept even the existence of dam induced floods.
Lastly, but most significantly, the Government this week came out with a report “Assessment of Climate Change over the Indian Region: A report of the Ministry of Earth Sciences (MoES), Government of India”, that does not mention the Uttarakhand Flood Disaster as an example of anthropogenic climate Change impact, nor does it talk about lessons that we need to learn from such events. This when a number of international agencies have concluded that there is role of anthropogenic climate change in the Uttarakhand disaster. To illustrate, University of Utah (USA) has concluded in in its study that: “In addition, a regional modeling diagnosis attributed 60-90% of rainfall amounts in the June 2013 event to post-1980 climate trends.”
Its tragic that we do not see almost any footprint of the lessons that we may have learnt from this massive unprecedented disaster. The Uttarakhand citizens used to jokingly say soon after the disaster that this is only trailer, “Picture abhi Baaki hai, dosto!” One only hopes that picture never gets released.
Author is a water expert and Founder, SANDRP
(The article was originally published in SANDRP’s weekly bulletin on 22 June 2020)