Climate Change

Damage due to heavy rains in Uttarakhand’s Kotdwar point to greater need for rainfall and water level monitoring

Removing illegal encroachments and climate resilient infrastructure need of the hour

By Varsha Singh
Published: Thursday 10 August 2023
उत्तराखंड विधानसभा की अध्यक्ष एवं कोटद्वार की विधायक ऋतु खंडूरी भूषण टूटे हुए पुल के पास। फोटो : @RituKhanduriBJP / Twitter

Kotdwar, situated in the foothills of Pauri district in Uttarakhand, witnessed record-breaking rainfall over the last two days and locals have reported heavy damage to the city due to the rains. The Khoh river is in spate and houses in the Terai area of Garhwal division are collapsing into the river. A bridge has crumbled and sewage water is gushing down the streets and damaging houses. 

The rainfall on the night of August 8 has broken records of 17-18 years, said resident Vimal Dhyani, who works as a teacher. “Kotdwar received more than 277 mm of rain in 12 hours. We have not seen such heavy rain before and it has caused a lot of damage,” Dhyani said. 

Many have moved to the city in search of work, leading to a high population, and people have illegally encroached into the river bank and built all kinds of structures, from pucca houses to slums, said Dhyani.

“Some houses are built almost on top of the river, so if you sweep the house, the garbage would fall into the Khoh. The administration does nothing to remove them for fear of disturbing their vote bank,” he said. 

A damaged house in Kotdwar. Photo: Vimal Dhyani

Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) from Kotdwar and Assembly Speaker Ritu Khanduri Bhushan said she was working on saving the people. “There has been a cloudburst in the mountains and the effect is visible in the Terai areas. The houses are breaking down. We have to save people from the rain right now,” she said.

The rain pattern was different this time, Bhushan said. ““On the night of August 8, clouds burst in Yamkeshwar and Dugadda near Kotdwar. At that time, it rained so heavily in Kotdwar for 3-4 hours that it seemed that the cloud had burst here. It was surprising that in one corner of the city it was raining, and in the other corner it was not raining at all. We had never heard of such things as cloudbursts before”.

This is an eyeopener she said, stressing the need to not build houses on river banks. “We have to prepare houses as well as infrastructure, including roads and bridges, according to the changing climate,” Bhushan said, expressing concern over the damage to the city.

The situation is similar in Haldwani and Udham Singh Nagar in the Terai region of Kumaon division. The Gaula river is flowing with a strong current in Haldwani. Whereas in Kathgodam, the water from the Kalsia drain entered the houses and damaged them. 

According to the Udham Singh Nagar District Emergency Operation Centre, 461 people belonging to 99 families from Sitarganj and Khatima cities have been accommodated in primary schools for their safety due to heavy rains and waterlogging.

The situation has also brought forward the importance of monitoring water levels in rivers for timely warnings to people. 

The water level data for Kathgodam and Garjia stations in Nainital is not available on the flood monitoring website of the Central Water Commission. Even on August 10, the data of Ramnagar Barrage was showing the water level of August 8.

For Udham Singh Nagar, the data on the water level of the rivers is either not available or is old even though both the districts are battling with increased water levels due to heavy rains.

Change in rainfall pattern

More than 200 millimetres of rain was recorded at four places in Uttarakhand in the last 24 hours, while six areas witnessed more than 100 mm rainfall, according to an August 9 report of the India Meteorological Department (IMD). 

Rainfall of 64.5 to 115.5 mm is classified as heavy rain by the IMD, while 115.6 to 204.4 mm is very heavy rainfall and greater than 204.4 mm rainfall is extremely heavy rain. 

There was 206 mm rainfall in Banbasa of Champawat district of Kumaon division, 191 mm in Tanakpur, 164 mm in Sama of Bageshwar district and 129 mm in Lohaghat. Chowragalia in Nainital district saw 231 mm rain, 203 mm in Kaladhungi, 195 mm in Jeolikot and 189 mm in Nainital. 

Ramnagar received 181 mm and Haldwani received 174 mm of rain. Khatima in Udham Singh Nagar district received 115 mm of rain and Pantnagar received 110 mm of rain. While in Garhwal division, Kotdwar in Pauri district recorded 277.5 mm of rain and Yamkeshwar 147 mm.

Champawat district recorded 460 per cent excess rainfall, Bageshwar 854 per cent excess, Pauri 374 per cent excess, Nainital 610 per cent and Udham Singh Nagar 763 per cent excess rainfall.

The website of IMD’s regional centre in Dehradun shows 251 mm of rain was recorded in Dehradun's Sahastradhara on August 8, which dropped to 9.9 mm on August 10.

 Bhim Singh Rawat, Associate Coordinator of the South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People, is studying these rainfall data. He says, “In some pockets of the state, there are heavy rains on the lines of cloudbursts, but in the district level records, they are being recorded as normal rains, like the August 8 rains in Dehradun,” he said. 

Excessive rainfall incidents at the local level are also increasing in the state, he added. “But due to lack of adequate monitoring, these records are not being maintained. There is a need for a great deal of improvement in the rainwater measurement and documentation system in the state to understand the impact of climate change and take appropriate measures for prevention”.

Climate resilient infrastructure

According to a report by the intergovernmental organisation The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, there is an increasing need to make houses, roads, bridges and buildings climate-resilient to protect from sudden rains, landslides, floods and river erosion.

In Kotdwar on August 9, 74 mm of rain resulted in debris blocking the National Highway in about 10-12 places. While near Ratanpur-Gaighat township, about 20 feet of an approach road of a Jhula bridge was damaged and washed away in Khoh river. Earlier in July, the bridge over the Malan river was broken and still has not been fixed yet

The bridge over the Dhela river in Udham Singh Nagar is broken as well.

In the last few years, economic loss due to rain has increased but its data is not available, said Piyush Rautela, executive director of the Uttarakhand State Disaster Management Authority 

“The monsoon loss figures are based on the total compensation paid. If 10 houses were broken, then compensation had to be paid in lieu of that. There is no system to assess and record the economic loss caused during the monsoon. However, in special circumstances such as the Kedarnath disaster of 2013 or the damage caused by heavy rains in 2017, reports were prepared,” Rautela said.

“The reason for the increase in economic losses is also the construction work done in the wrong way or in the wrong place. The rains have harmed Dehradun's Sahastradhara because people have built houses inside the river. The river will sooner or later return to its course, and then the damage will increase,” he further said.

In hilly areas, people build roadside houses or shops due to economic compulsion. This is a calculated risk by them,  Rautel added. 

According to him, it is now necessary that the environmental impact of all buildings including residential, commercial should be assessed and constructed after its permission.

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