Natural Disasters

Glacier breaks in Chamoli, experts blame low snowfall

Use of concrete instead of traditional wood and masonry in the Himalayas is creating a heat-island effect, warming the range, they added

By Ishan Kukreti
Published: Sunday 07 February 2021
Rescue personnel on the site of the disaster. Photo: Twitter
Rescue personnel on the site of the disaster. Photo: Twitter Rescue personnel on the site of the disaster. Photo: Twitter

A major disaster struck the Himalayan state of Uttrakhand February 7, 2021. A glacier broke after an avalanche in the Joshimath area of the state’s Chamoli district. 

There are reports of missing people and damage to property. The Chamoli police said the Rishiganga Power Project had been damaged due a breach caused by the glacier in Tapovan area.

“The weather was nice and we were doing our daily chores. Suddenly, around 10:30 AM, a huge amount of water started coming in the Rishiganga river. There was a lot of noise. It was just like the Kedarnath tragedy. The power station got taken immediately and the 100-150 workers there are still missing. Now it is filled with mud. The river is also filled with mud.

When the deluge came, all the villagers rushed to higher elevation, but those who had gone to collect wood or taken their goats and cows for pasture, are missing,” Balwant Rana of Reni village along the banks of river Rishiganga said. Two teams of the Indo-Tibetan Border Police have reached the spot and three National Disaster Response Force teams have been rushed from Dehradun, according to Union Minister of State for Home, Nityanand Rai.

According to experts, the reduced snowfall this winter in Uttarakahnd seems to have played a part in the disaster.

“It is very unusual for something like this to happen at this time. During winters, the rain and snowfall replenishes the glaciers and fixes any structural issues. However, this year, there was reduced snowfall in the higher elevations. This could have been one of the reasons, although it is hard to say right now which glacier has been affected,” a scientist said on the condition of anonymity.

There are around 200 glaciers in Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh and Jammu and Kashmir.

The scientist said the monitoring of glaciers during the winter was difficult due to the weather and the area was usually cut off. “It is only from March to September, when the weather is conducive, that we are able to monitor the glaciers,” he said.

“Some 8,800 glacial lakes in the Himalayas are spread across countries and more than 200 of these have been classified as dangerous. Recent scientific evidence suggests that floods originating in the Himalayas are caused largely by landslides that temporarily block mountain rivers,” Maharaj K Pandit, professor in the Department of Environmental Studies and director of the Centre for Interdisciplinary Studies of Mountain & Hill Environment, University of Delhi, said.

“The Himalayas are warming faster than other mountain ranges and the increased use of reinforced concrete in building construction, replacing the traditional wood and stone masonry there, is likely to create a heat-island effect and thus add to regional warming,” he said. Pandit added: “The government only does things after a disaster has struck, but is never proactive. We have been saying for a long time to set up an early warning system in the Himalayas, like the one set up in coastal areas after the 2004 tsunami, but it’s still not there.”


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