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Uttarakhand disaster was result of extreme rains and haphazard development: report

7 Comments
Date:Jul 15, 2013

National Institute of Disaster Management suggests guidelines and action plans for development activities after compilation of comprehensive data

It is believed that a combination of events caused the devastation in Kedarnath town. A massive landslide occurred upstream in the north-east region of the Kedar valley. At the same time heavy rainfall formed a small lake in the north-west of the valley. The debris from the landslide and water from the lake travelled down the slope, channelled into the glacier, and came down to Kedarnath town (photo by Rohit Dimri)

The National Institute of Disaster Management (NIDM), in one of its first reports on the Uttarakhand floods, has blamed “climatic conditions combined with haphazard human intervention” in the hills for the disaster.

Surya Prakash, associate professor of NIDM, travelled over a 1,000 kilometres in flood- and landslide-hit areas of Uttarakhand between June 22 and 24 to prepare the report. He says that the abnormally high amount of rain (more than 400 per cent) in the hill state was caused by the fusion of Westerlies with the monsoonal cloud system. Heavy precipitation swelled rivers, both in the upstream as well as downstream areas. Besides the rain water, a huge quantity of water was probably released from melting of ice and glaciers due to high temperatures during the month of May and June. The water not only filled up the lakes and rivers that overflowed but also may have caused breaching of moraine dammed lakes in the upper reaches of the valley, particularly during the late evening on  June 16 and on June 17, killing about several hundred persons; thousands went missing and about 100,000 pilgrims were trapped.

Prakash says that the Alaknanda river and the Mandakini, both tributaries of the Ganga), occupied their flood ways and started flowing along the old courses where habitations were built over time (when the river had abandoned this course and shifted its path to the east side). Thus, the rivers destroyed the buildings and other infrastructure that came in its way.

He explains that geomorphological study of the area indicates that the surface slopes consist mostly of glacial, fluvio-glacial, or fluvial materials, which are mostly unconsolidated and loose in nature. The drainage studies indicate a migratory or shifting nature of the river systems that causes aggradations on the concave end of the river and degradation or toe erosion on the convex part of the river. Due to morphological setting of the area, the river has high sinuosity and hence, high level of erosive capacity, especially when it is loaded with sediments (the erosive power of river with sediments is almost square of the erosive power without sediments).

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“The area has been denuded to a great extent due to deforestation and tree cutting for road construction, and other activities such as building construction, mining and hydel projects. It has also resulted in increased surface flow and rise of river bed due to disposal of debris in the rivers,” the report said. Geologically, the rocks in this area are found highly deformed, degraded and dissected by structural discontinuities and drainages.

Seismo-tectonically, the area is traversed by several lineaments, faults and thrusts, which are considered to be geodynamically active. The area had suffered an earthquake on March 29, 1999 (M-6.8), which caused loosening of rock masses, ground cracks and landslides, besides killing more than a 100 people due to collapse of buildings. Thus, the natural terrain conditions combined with climatic/weather conditions and haphazard human intervention made a conducive environment for such a hazardous process to take place in this valley, said Prakash.

“The hazard turned into a major disaster when people along with their properties and infrastructure occupied such areas without adequate information, knowledge, awareness and preparedness against the potential disaster,” he added.

The main objective of Prakash's visit to the affected areas was to observe the major damages along the national highway from Rishikesh to Chamoli and interact with people, including victims, relief workers and local people to learn about the event and its impacts.

Based on the field observation, Prakash has suggested terrestrial, meteorological and anthropogenic data with particular focus on landslides, rainfall and other information relevant to the event should be collected and compiled. “Necessary guidelines and action plans for tourist/pilgrimage places and hotels,lodges and guest houses should be developed keeping in mind the concentration of people at such locations during the time of disasters,” he says.

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NIDM while preparing the report avoided to touch upon its role vis-a-vis in the present disaster. If we look at rainfall data in this zone, it is not unusual as the normal rainfall in July & August exceed 700 mm each with extremes leading in to more than double the normal. However, that intensified the disaster under high rainfall are corrected narrated: They are (1) The area has been denuded to a great extent due to deforestation and tree cutting for road construction, and other activities such as building construction, mining and hydel projects. It has also resulted in increased surface flow and rise of river bed due to disposal of debris in the rivers; (2)Geologically, the rocks in this area are found highly deformed, degraded and dissected by structural discontinuities and drainages; and (3)The hazard turned into a major disaster when people along with their properties and infrastructure occupied such areas without adequate information, knowledge, awareness and preparedness against the potential disaster. Here the main culprits are (1) both state & central governments for the destruction of ecologically sensitive and fragile zones; (2) Even after knowing the state of affair the NIDM failed to address the long term strategy its should have undertaken; and (3) though in recent years tourism has increased multifold to this fragile zone the ministry of tourism failed to take any short or long-term strategies to control and safeguard the pilgrims.

At least for the future, these agencies must come up with strategies to prevent such disasters in future. Here, unfortunately most deaths are associated with constructions along the banks of rivers -- illegally!!!

Dr. S. Jeevananda Reddy

21 July 2013
Posted by
Dr. S. Jeevananda Reddy

New strategy should be framed for construction of houses in hilly regions, because the people living there are unaware about all this.

17 September 2013
Posted by
sarita joshi

it was so sad which was happened in the Uttarakandh...

18 October 2013
Posted by
swetha

It seems there is misplacement of the word "concave" and "convex" in the sentence - "aggradations on the concave end of the river and degradation or toe erosion on the convex part of the river"

25 December 2013
Posted by
Pradip Sharma

I do agree that the Uttarakhand disaster was result of extreme rains and haphazard development. This area is very sensitive to sound and environment but developments took place without any consideration to the landscape. The local authorities had turned a blind eye to the entire issue.

27 December 2013

really very pathetic for this disaster.

2 March 2014
Posted by
Dayita Das.

It was a primary report by NIDM that focussed on bring together important issues related with Uttarakhand disaster in 2013 June.

Further a series of two national workshops were organised by NIDM to discuss the report, its contents, findings and lessons learnt for helping towards some fruitful outcome. The document was shared with all important stakeholders, agencies and was in public domain and all suggestions are considered seriously.

Further, an initiative of NIDM jointly with UNEP is proposed to study and emphasize on the underlying causes of risk and vulnerability in Uttarakhand (and in similar ecozones).

NIDM doesnt place its perspective view only but also brings out the facts, figures and versions of information and their convergence for a wider outlook to draw lessons for the future. However, disaster management and water - both are state subjects and also the law & order, it is actually the state Government and more to it district and local administration which shall play key role in putting in place the correct practices of prevention and mitigation.

Finally, it is utmost important to understand that common strategy of development model would not work and specific sustainable and safe models based on local conditions need to be developed, tested and implemented.

The final report is expected to be in public domain shortly (by July 2014).

ANIL GUPTA
Head of Policy Planning at NIDM New Delhi

15 June 2014
Posted by
Anil K Gupta

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