Climate Change

Chamoli glacier burst: It is time to learn from our mistakes

The cumulative effect of hydropower projects has turned out to be more environmentally damaging than sustainable, given the current policy of the Uttarakhand govt 

 
By Shailshree Tewari
Published: Sunday 07 February 2021
A glacier broke after an avalanche in the Joshimath area of the state’s Chamoli district. Photo: Twitter

Human activities profoundly affect the earth’s climate and mountains are a sensitive indicator of that effect. The mountain ecosystem is easily disrupted by variations in climate owing to their altitude, slope and orientation to the sun.

Several scientists believe that the change occurring in the mountain ecosystems may provide an early glimpse of what could come to pass in a lowland environment. As the earth heats up, mountains glaciers melt at unprecedented rates, while rare plants and animals struggle to survive over ever diminishing areas. As a result, people living in the mountains face a great deal of hardship.

Melting of Himalayan glaciers has doubled since the start of the 21st century due to rising temperature, losing over vertical foot-and-half or ice each year and potentially threatening water supply for hundreds of millions of people in counties, including India.

An analysis spanning 40 years of satellite observations across India, China, Nepal, and Bhutan indicated that climate change is eating the Himalayan glaciers, according to a study published in 2019.  

Changes in the volume of mountain glaciers and in their seasonal melting patterns have a great impact on water resources in many parts of the world. Changes in water availability due to glacier melting because of evident change in climate are taking place at a time when pressure on water resources for irrigation and food production, industrialisation and urbanisation is increasing.

The entire State of Uttarakhand is categorised as falling in Zone IV and V of the earthquake risk map of India. Previously, the region has witnessed devastating earthquakes and in the recent past earthquakes in Chamoli and flood in Kedarnath has been witnessed.

Despite the threat of such calamity and knowing that mountains provide large amounts of water run-off for run-of-river projects from melting snow and glacier ice, glacier lakes can pose a significant hazard and bursting of glacial lakes can cause flash floods with catastrophic consequences, the large hydropower projects are in vogue in the state.

And on February 7, 2021, we witnessed another disaster induced by climate change due to negative impact of humans on the environment: A glacier broke after an avalanche in the Joshimath area of Uttarakhand’s Chamoli district.

According to experts, reduced snowfall this winter in Uttarakhand may have played a major part in the glacier bursts. Uttarakhand is a wake-up call, not just for the rulers and people in the state, but also the planners and decision-makers all over the country.

The potential of cumulative effect of multiple such projects has turned out to be more environmentally damaging than sustainable, given the current policy of the state government of pursuing hydro-power projects indiscriminately

It is said that those who fail to learn from history are doomed to suffer from it repeatedly. It is high time, therefore, for the government to realise that the Himalayan mountains are fragile and impatient, and government shall set its development priorities and projects based on the potential of the mountains, local and traditional knowledge as well as aspirations of the place.

The state itself is endowed with expertise who are there from last many years and have gained immense experience and learning about the ecology of the State.

So, merely in the name of development or economic growth, please not impose any ideas and projects which are incompatible with the local environment and ecology.

“Let not the sacrifice of innocent victims of Uttarakhand go in vain and let not the heaven speaks go unheard”.

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