A major challenge associated with any natural disaster is the quantitative character of the forecast; the task is not just to forecast the occurrence of an event, which is difficult enough by itself, but to anticipate the magnitude of the event. Similarly, sometimes it is difficult to anticipate the form and nature of the disaster as well. A sudden and unknown glacial lake burst, or an avalanche hit the lakes of Uttarakhand on the 7th of February 2021, morning resulting in a lethal situation.
The reason for this could be the retreating glaciers which result in the formation of proglacial lakes, which are often bounded by their sediments and stones, and therefore any breach in the boundaries may lead to a large stream of water rushing down the streams and lakes resulting in a flood down streams. Defying the timing for cloudburst during this time of the year, scientists allege the event to be a Glacial lake outburst flood. The catastrophic flood was caused by a large rock slope detachment from the Trishuli.
The situational reports claim that the total number of humans affected is close to 500 amongst which170 people were reported missing and a total of 22 lives lost. Four hydropower projects are destroyed along with several houses and bridges being damaged near the river Dhauliganga.
Rescue teams have been rushed to the spot, and several districts of the state have been placed on high alert. A joint team of ITBP, Army, SDRF, and NDRF have been deployed inside the Tapovan tunnel in Chamoli for rescuing 52 people who are trapped.
As of now, the incident does not seem to have any direct connection with construction-related activities or the existence of large dams, but climate change, particularly in the creation of proglacial lakes, as a factor, is not something that can be ignored. Most of the Himalayan glaciers are assumed to be receding, all contributing to the formation of many proglacial lakes.
On Twitter, Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi posted that he was “continuously monitoring the unfortunate situation”. He has been speaking to senior authorities on an ongoing basis and providing updates on NDRF deployment, rescue work, and relief operations. Officials from the Union Home Ministry said two NDRF teams are en-route, while three additional teams from Hindon have been flown in. Rescue operations include the Army’s Engineering Task Force (ETF), Navy divers, and IAF helicopters. Ex-gratia compensation of Rs 4 lakh each was declared by the state government to the families of those killed. The Office of the Prime Minister posted on Twitter that Shri Narendra Modi “approved for the next of kin of those who lost their lives ex-gratia of Rs. 2 lakh each from PMNRF” and Rs 50,000 for those critically injured.
Dr. Anamika Roy is a dental surgeon and currently a postgraduate student, pursuing Master of Public Health (Health Policy) at Prasanna School of Public Health, Manipal Academy of Higher Education (MAHE), Manipal, India.
- Indian express. Glacial lake burst or avalanche? Scientists to leave for Uttarakhand disaster site today [Internet]. Indianexpress.com. 2021 [cited 8 February 2021]. Available from: https://indianexpress.com/article/india/uttarakhand-glacier-break-flash-flood-rishiganga-7178998/
- Sphere India. “Situation Report 2: Glacial Lake Outburst Flood in Uttarakhand”. www.sphereindia.org.in. 2021 [cited 8 February 2021]. Available from: http://www.sphereindia.org.in/
- UTTARAKHAND FLOODS LIVE UPDATES: TOLL RISES TO 26 AS MORE BODIES RECOVERED; RESCUE TEAM MAKING ITS WAY INSIDE TAPOVAN TUNNEL [Internet]. News18.com. 2021 [cited 8 February 2021]. Available from: https://www.news18.com/news/india/uttarakhand-floods-live-updates-chamoli-tapovan-dam-glacier-burst-weather-reni-village-army-ndrf-pm-modi-dhauliganga-3403721.html