Uttarakhand Cloudburst (Himalayan Tsunami)

Uttarakhand �the abode of gods� with its magnificent snow-covered peaks, pristine forests and awe-inspiring rivers, is a place of sacred in Indian culture. Millions of tourists and pilgrims pay homage to the state of Uttarakhand every year. Despite all these attractions, the state of Uttarakhand is highly vulnerable ecosphere. There are sudden cloudbursts, landslides, avalanches, and ash floods in the state. Nature demands both space and respect. This point is to be borne in mind while designing any developmental project and promotion of tourism.

Cloudbursts, landslides and ash floods are an almost annual feature in Uttarakhand. The cloudburst of 16th June 2013, however, was unparallel disaster in the modern history of the state of Uttarakhand, resulting into enormous loss of life, property, crops and infrastructure. With many highways damaged, bridges washed away, electricity and phones networks down, hotels and motels destroyed, rural settlements and towns buried and numerous ravaged places continued to be marooned. Looking at the colossal loss of life, property and infrastructure the cloudburst disaster has been given the name of �Himalayan Tsunami�. The Uttarakhand cloudburst affected about 48,000sq km area of Bhagirathi, Alaknanda catchment, especially that of Mandakni River, the Kedarnath Shrine, Rambara, Gaurikund, and Guptkashi towns.

As stated above, cloudburst is a natural phenomenon. It is a manifestation of excessive rainfall in a short duration of time (minutes or few hours). But excessive rainfall provides only a partial explanation for why the Deo-Bhumi (abode of the gods), Uttarakhand has been devastated in the cloudburst of 16th June 2013. According to experts of environment and ecology, the disaster might have been waiting to happen. The illegal constructions on the hills, the exponential growth of rickety structures that serve as hotels which are maintained, the lack attitude towards warnings of natural catastrophes are largely responsible for this disaster of Mandakni, Bhilangna, Alaknanda and Bhagirathi rivers (Fig.6.6). One can observe the extension and development of National Highways, construction of multistoried buildings, hotels, motels, sarais, dharamshalas (inns), rest-houses, factories, picnic spots, tourist camping grounds, numerous dams across the rivers in the region of poor soil stability and fragile ecosystems which have compounded the vulnerability of the region to natural disasters. The ambitious target of the decision makers and planners to convert the state of Uttarakhand into the �Urjapradesh� (Energy Province) and the �Tourist Capital of India� is, however, against the principles of ecology, and environment.

Moreover, the indiscriminate deforestation, mindless construction of buildings, blasting of rocks for the construction of roads, lack of implementation of environmental laws and the indifferent implementation of Environmental Impact Assessment, have made the state of Uttarakhand highly vulnerable to disasters, natural calamities and catastrophe. In fact, the devastating floods in Uttarakhand have proved that taming natural forces through human interventions is all but a myth. There is an urgent need to adopt a long term planning, based on the principles of ecology for sustainable development not only in Uttarakhand but in all the hilly and mountainous states of the country.

Written by princy

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