As you all know few days back the Northern Indian states-Uttarakhandand Himachal Pradesh, and their adjoining areas have experienced heavy rainfall that triggered devastating floods and landslides. As of 21 June 2013, more than 1,000 people have died with many more missing. Damage to bridges and roads left over 70,000 pilgrims and tourists trapped in various places,of whom, many were rescued. As of 23 June 2013, about 22,000 people are said to be still stranded.
As of 22 June 2013, the death toll in Uttarakhandwas reported to be 1,000 with several more missing and more than 70,000 tourists and pilgrims stranded. By 23 June 2013, some sources claimed that the death toll could even rise to 5,000. The official death toll in Uttarakhand by 25 June 2013 was 822.
The upper Himalayan territories of Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhandare full of forests and snow-covered mountains and thus remain relatively inaccessible. They are home to several major and historic Hindu pilgrimage sites and at least one such Sikh pilgrimage site besides several tourist spots and trekking venues. From 14 to 17 June 2013 Uttarakhand received heavy rainfall, which was about 375 percent more than the benchmark rainfall during a normal monsoon. This caused heavy floods in Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh and Western Nepal, and acute rainfall in other nearby regions of Delhi, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and some parts of Tibet. In the city of Dehra Dun, capital of Uttarakhand, this was the wettest June day for over five decades. Heavy rainfall for four consecutive days as well as melting snow aggravated the floods. Warnings by the India Meteorological Department predicting heavy rains were not given wide publicity beforehand, causing thousands of people to be caught unaware, resulting in huge loss of life and property.
Death and Damage at Kedarnath (Kedar Ghati):
Due to the floods, damaged several houses and structures, killing those who were trapped. The heavy rains resulted in large flash floods and massive landslides. Entire villages and settlements such as Kedarnath. Over 70,000 people were stuck in various regions because of damaged or blocked roads. Although the Kedarnath Temple itself had not been damaged, its base was inundated with water, mud and boulders from the landslide, damaging its perimeter. Many hotels around the temple were destroyed, resulting in several casualties. Most of the destruction at Kedarnath was caused by a sudden rapid melting of ice and snow on the Kedarnath Mountain, 6 km (3.7 mi) from the temple, which flooded the Charbari lake (upstream) and then Kedarnath. Within the temple, a panic-driven stampede resulted in several deaths.More than 500 people are currently missing from Kedarnath.The Uttarakhand Government announced that due to the extensive damage to the infrastructure, the temple will be temporarily closed to regular pilgrims and tourists for a year; but the temple and its rituals will still be maintained by priests.The Kedarnath Yatra would also not be held for the next 2 years.
As of 26 June 2013, the official death toll in Uttarakhand, based on the collected bodies of the victims, had crossed 20,000. Rescuers at the Hindu pilgrimage town of Haridwar on the river Ganga have been reported to have recovered bodies of 40 victims washed down by the flooded rivers as of June 25 2013.
The Army, Air Force, Navy, Indo-Tibetan Border Police, Border Security Force, National Disaster Response Force, Public Works Department and local administrations worked together for quick rescue operations. Several thousand soldiers were deployed for the rescue missions. Activists of political and social organizations are also involved in the rescue and management of relief centers. Helicopters were used to rescue people, but due to the rough terrain, heavy fog and rainfall, maneuvering them was a challenge. Ministers from all over the country are chipping in with aid, money is flooding the Uttarakhand Disaster Management and Mitigation Centre. All this has happened this past week after massive rains and floods ravaged the Himalayan State. On June 25, an IAF resue chopper crashed. Eight of those on-board were fatally injured.
Uttarakhand Floods Important Helpline Numbers:
- Uttarkashi- (+91)1374-226461
- Chomali- (+91) 1372-251437 | 9411352136
- Rudraprayag- (+91) 01364-233727 | 9412914875
- Control Room (Uttarakhand)- (+91) 0135-2710334 | 9557444486
How does it make you feel?
Even after two weeks of rescue operations uncertainty prevails over the number of casualties and people still stuck in what is described as the worst natural disaster that has ever struck the northern Indian state of Uttarakhand. The Chief Minister of the mountainous state, Vijay Bahuguna, says that the exact number of deaths in the calamity will never be known as estimates of the actual casualties vary from hundreds to several thousands.
One senior official claims that the death toll could exceed 10,000. According to state officials, 3,000 people are still missing from the region.
Most of the victims identified so far have been outsiders who were on the Char Dham Yatra pilgrimage to Uttarkhand’s shrines of Badrinath, Kedarnath, Gangotri and Yamnotri, which takes place between May and November. This is one of the reasons that the tragedy in the tiny state has impacted the whole nation.Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.
During peak season every year hordes of pilgrims come from across India and abroad to visit hilly pilgrimage centers accessible only by small roads, which believers travel with the help of mules. For Hindus, the journey to the four shrines carries a similar level of importance as Haj does for Muslims.
The inaccessibility of the terrain and breakdown in communication made it difficult to assess the enormity of the damage in the first few days after incessant rain started on June 16. Subsequent cloudbursts wiped out town after town and ravaged hundreds of villages.
Describing the magnitude of the problem, the CNN-IBN correspondent Karma Palijor, who has been reporting from the area for almost two weeks, told The Diplomat that “India has never seen this kind of tragedy. It’s worse than the tsunami (of 2004). The tsunami killed many, but it came and was gone. Here, the bigger challenge has come after the devastation with the rescue operation; to bring people stranded in the middle of nowhere to a safer zone.”
He added, “The problem got compounded due to a lack of any standard operating procedure in place, due to a lack of any planning about how to deal with such a tragedy. The government panicked initially when it saw the magnitude of the devastation.”
Reports coming from the state narrate the bone chilling stories of eye witness accounts, detailing three days of unprecedented devastation that claimed an untold number of lives.
At the center of the hardest hit area was the temple town of Kedarnath, 11,000 feet above sea level. News reports suggest that at least 10,000 to 12,000 people visit the hilly town every day during the peak pilgrimage season.
The latest figures released by the Uttarakhand government indicated that 2,375 villages were affected by floods and landslides, of which 739 are still cut off, but are receiving relief supplies.
Based on first-hand information, Palijor said that hundreds of villages lying on both sides of the Bhagirathi and Alaknanda rivers have been all but washed off the map, with little hope of rehabilitation.
It will take between weeks and months until rescue operations are completed, and years before the state can be rebuilt.
Uttarakhand has been at the receiving end of nature’s fury in recent years. In 2008-2009, the state experienced severe drought. And in 2010, people grappled with floods, flash floods, landslides and cloudbursts.
But the severity of the tragedy hitting the state this time has raised some very valid questions: How much of the devastation is the result of climate change? And to what it extent was it induced by unplanned development by the state?
Indrajit Bose of the Centre for Science and Environment, a New Delhi-based environmental think tank, told The Diplomat, “The devastation is the combined result of man’s folly and nature’s fury. Because of the way development has been going on in the state, this disaster was just waiting to happen. You cannot change the course of the two important rivers – Bhagirathi and Alaknanda – and expect nature to accept this tampering.”
Pointing to the state’s draft plan on climate change, Bose underlines the draft’s finding that “Uttarakhand is most vulnerable to climate-mediated risks.”
In short, the indiscriminate increase in tourism wreaked havoc on the environmentally vulnerable state.
According to the 2011 census, Uttarakhand’s population was 10.8 million. The state hosted 20.68 million pilgrims and tourists in 2010-2011. Since then, the four pilgrimage centers saw a fourfold increase in the number of pilgrims as year-round access to the shrines – previously restricted to four months – was allowed.
News magazine Tehelka writes that, according to the state official in charge of monitoring vehicles, around 100,000 vehicles – 50-60 percent of them not state-owned – visit the pilgrimage centers three times each year. Further, since 2005-2006, the number of registered taxis and jeeps in the state has jumped tenfold. Meanwhile, since 2010, the state has built an additional 4,500 km of road, and has nearly tripled its total road length in the past decade.
Taking a cue from the recent tragedy, on Monday the state government announced that construction will no longer be allowed on the state’s river banks. Further, CM Bahuguna announced the establishment of a state Rehabilitation and Reconstruction Authority, which will draft plans to rebuild and develop the flood-hit areas of the state.
But before rehabilitation starts the greater challenge for the state and the Indian government is finding the missing persons who number in the thousands.
The tragic floods of Uttarakhand are a warning to all hilly states in India to stop playing with nature in the name of economic development.