An iceberg in the Chamoli region of Uttarakhand could be a natural way of telling people that it can go back when the natural balance is destroyed. Extreme quarrying, rock climbing, and tunneling at the base of the delicate mountain dams built back and forth, each of the Rishi Ganga and Dauli Ganga rivers, have caused significant damage to the environment. Certainly, the exact cause of the tragedy that occurred on Sunday is still being determined – but there is no doubt that the impact would not have been so small with the wise construction of projects in the region.
The weather may be exacerbating the situation. A new report by the International Center for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) based in Kathmandu states that 36% of the Hindu Kush Himalayan (HKH) ice sheet will be depleted by the end of the 2100s even if the earth is able to keep temperatures within 1.5 degrees Celsius. of the Paris Agreement. Although the disaster region does not fall on HKH, the findings confirm other studies on the rapid melting of glaciers that feed the Ganga endlessly from the highlands of Uttarakhand and China.
Data from the Indian Space Research Organization’s resource center in the Himalayan ice caps show that melting glaciers in the Central Himalayan lakes, where Chamoli falls, has increased in the first 20 years of this century. A study based on a study of 650 glaciers, covering 2,000 km and published in Science Advances in June 2019, states that glaciers have doubled since 2000 compared to 1975-2000.
The rapid melting of the Ganga glaciers will affect the lives of the nearly 600 million people living on the Ganga river basin, from Uttarakhand in the north to Bangladesh in the south.
Glacial melting and cracking are well documented. However, little attention has been paid to the damage done to the environment and to the loss of forest cover in the Himalayas by the construction of hydel dams and the construction of wide roads (read: Char Dham road project) looking at environmental practices. Residents of Raini in Chamoli, now the epicenter of Sunday’s tragedy, had filed an application in the Uttarakhand High Court in May 2019 regarding illegal mining in the Rishi Ganga River bed, volcanic eruptions and improper disposal by contractors working on the Rishi Ganga hydel project.
The high court asked the Chamoli district magistrate to submit a report; and found some of the allegations to be true. Not much has happened since then.
The upper reaches of Uttarakhand, the source of several river systems that feed the Ganga, already have 16 dams and 13 more under construction. The provincial government has proposed another 54 dams to use the hydel power of these rivers. On the Dhauli Ganga River, eight new hydel projects are being proposed in addition to the Tapovan National Thermal Power Corporation project, which was badly damaged in Sunday’s floods. Geologists say that heavy drills like this uneducated mountain system such as the Himalayas and the loss of large green cover in these dams cause irreparable damage.
It should be noted that, rarely, anywhere in the world, do two major catastrophes strike the region in less than a decade. A similar flood caused by the eruption of a glacier destroyed the Kedarnath Shrine during the 2013 tourist season, killing about 3,000 people and leaving thousands missing. There has never been such a rush in Chamoli fortunately because Rishi Ganga and Dhauli Ganga are small rivers. All those dead or missing are workers in these two hydel projects.
There is insufficient data to suggest that the number of severe flooding due to glaciers in Uttarakhand increased after 2000 and the reason, experts say, is the sudden outbreak of unfriendly environmental development activities. If the current Himalayan destruction movement continues, the future catastrophe will be severe. Nature will come back again. Damage today and repair tomorrow is not an option. India has only one option – save the Himalayas.