uttarakhand flood

This week many parts of Uttrakhand have again faced disaster like conditions of very heavy and concentrated rain, landslides, heavier then expected water flows and floods. At the time of writing on Wednesday evening ( October 20), 46 deaths have been reported and 11  are reported missing. Rescues by National Disaster Response Team and others resulted in timely rescue of several badly stranded persons, including migrant workers and tourists.

Chief Minister Pushkar Singh Dhami has stated that massive damage has taken place all over the state. Certainly reports of distress and disaster have been coming in from most parts. However this time it appears that Kumaon region of the state has suffered even more than Garhwal region. Generally the Garhwal region has been more in news at the time of disasters, but this time it appears that there have been more deaths and heavier damage in Kumaon. Even such a famous hill station as Nainital was cut off for some time.

In Ramgarh Talla it appears that the situation has been particularly devastating. Videos from here also give an idea that a lot of damage in interior areas has taken place which may not capture attention of officials immediately. This damage has been of longer-term duration and these aspects of the disaster badly upsetting the life of many ordinary hill households, already leading a difficult life, should be kept in mind while preparing the longer-term relief and rehabilitation plan.

Houses need to be repaired. Those in more dangerous situation need alternative accommodation. Rubble has to be cleared from fields and in some cases even homes. Let us not forget that the number of women-led househlds is higher in Uttarakhand as such a large number of young men go out in search of livelihoods.

Many village paths have also been been badly damaged. People seen on videos are heard to be expressing surprise that small water sources started appearing almost like rivers. Of course there were exceptionally heavy rains in concentrated time, but could there be something more to it? We should learn from the experiences to plan ahead in these more uncertain times of climate change.

Mid-October normally was not a time we associated with heavy rains at all in Uttarakhand. Late rains if they came at all would normally stop by the end of September. Hence October would be a good time to recover from any excesses of earlier rain. Festival of Deepawali would not be long in coming and as many men return home to their villages for the festival, there would be a lot of anticipation and looking-forward-to feeling in the air. Tourists and pilgrims would also be around in the pleasant mildly cold weather and there would be earning opportunities too.

However a disaster in October means that the damage from excess rain continues right till the Diwali days and the cycle of recovery and preparing for the winter ahead gets disrupted.

A disaster in Uttarakhand in the middle of the pilgrimage, Char Dham Yatra and tourism recovery times means that the administration also has the task of caring for and rescuing tourists,including trekkers in more remote parts. As the tragedy of workers who peished in Pauri Garhwal has re-emphasized, migrant workers not very familiar with Himalayan conditions remain a vulnerable lot at the time of disasters here.

Keeping in view the increasingly uncertain weather and more particularly the greater likeihood of heavy and concentrated rain events, clearly the need for more ecologically protective develoment priorites has been re-emphasized once more.

Bharat Dogra is a journalist who has reported frequently from Uttarakhand.


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