Disaster Prevention and Mitigation
The recent disaster in Sikkim caused by the Glacial Lake Outburst Flood (GLOF) has once again raised questions about our preparedness in combatting threats emerging from global warming and sustained melting of glaciers, especially in ecologically sensitive zones. Clearly, such disasters are indicative of our lackluster attitude towards tackling one of the gravest crises that human civilisation is currently facing, as is evidenced by the fact that all warnings regarding Lhonak Lake had simply been ignored. Similar incidents have been witnessed in Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand too, where timely action by authorities could have reduced the magnitude of damage. It’s a pity that instead of taking proactive measures to prevent the loss of life and property from such calamities, we are still championing projects that are threatning the fragile ecology of the Himalayan region. It is time to realise that we can’t continue destroying the ecology of the region without consequences. Rather we need to work on restoring it by banning unregulated construction, hydel power projects, and anthropogenic activities. Joshimath is not the only town under threat, other important cities and towns in the Himalayan range are in danger of subsidence too as they have also witnessed tremendous construction booms without conducting load capacity tests during the last few decades.
Taking a lesson from the Lhonak Lake incident, efforts should be made on a war footing to protect the 14 glacial lakes in Sikkim and several others in Arunachal Pradesh and Ladakh from exploding due to excessive melting of glaciers. To achieve this feat, all encroachments on the natural drainage system of these lakes should be removed. Moreover, it’s time to decide the fate of hydel projects as the magnitude of the Lhonak Lake disaster had increased manifold due to the collapse of 1200 MW Urja project dam that contributed nearly five million cubic meters of water to the already rampaging Teesta River. Environmentalists had predicted the possibility of such a disaster during its construction but all warnings were ignored and contingency plans put on the back burner. Now, as thousands of crores will be required to rebuild the hydroelectric project, an alternative project with must be identified after careful study of the efficacy and sustainability of proposed projects.
Today, the entire Himalayan range which is responsible for making India one the most fertile lands in the world, is under huge stress due to our reluctance to protect nature. Such a mindset needs to be changed immediately to save not only the Himalayas, but also for the survival of the country. Every Indian is bound to be affected if Himalayan ecology is damaged. The region is prone to earthquakes, flash floods and landslides, etc. and these threats have been further compounded by climate change. Any future efforts to protect the ecology of the region should be made keeping regional factors in mind, with input from major local stakeholders. Natural disasters are bound to happen, but it is our responsibility to ensure that human activities do not aggravate or increase the likelihood of such incidents. Special effort must be made to develop hazard scenarios and action plans, as well as land zonation maps that demarcate flood and landslide prone areas. Let’s protect our natural environment for a safer and sustainable future.