85% of Uttarakhand’s districts hotspots for extreme floods: Study

The frequency and intensity of these extreme floods in Uttarakhand have increased four-fold since 1970.

Credit : The Indian Express

Over 85 percent of districts in Uttarakhand are hotspots of extreme floods and associated events, states an independent analysis released by the Council on Energy, Environment and Water (CEEW). The report has stated that the frequency and intensity of these extreme floods in Uttarakhand have increased four-fold since 1970. The report has been released on the backdrop of the glacier disaster which led to flash floods in Uttarakhand’s Chamoli districts, leaving several dead and missing. Chamoli district where the incident occurred, has been slated to be one of the districts vulnerable to extreme floods, along with Haridwar, Nainital, Pithoragarh and Uttarkashi.

Over 170 people in the state are still missing in the disaster, with just over 30 bodies recovered as of now. The disaster is said to have been caused due to a large landslide that fell onto a glacier leading to a devastating flood. In fact, the CEEW analysis also states that associated flood events such as landslides, cloud bursts, glacial lake outbursts, etc. have also increased four-fold since 1970.

As to what triggers the frequent and recurrent flash floods in Uttarakhand, CEEW points towards a report released by the Ministry of Earth Sciences last year, which states that there has been a temperature rise of about 1.3 degree Celsius in the Hindu Kush Himalayas during 1951–2014. The increase in temperature has led to micro climatic changes and faster glacial retreat in Uttarakhand.

While climate change has been a factor triggering the disasters in the state, as Indie Journal had reported earlier, CEEW also blamed the rampant deforestation as a cause of the micro climatic changes. "In the last 20 years, Uttarakhand has lost more than 50,000 hectares of forest cover.  A focus on land use-based forest restoration could not only reverse the climate imbalance but also help promote sustainable tourism in the state," Abinash Mohanty, Programme Lead at CEEW, said in a press statement.

Pointing out how vulnerable communities are often the most affected by extreme climate events, Arunabha Ghosh, Chief Executive Officer, CEEW, said, "We cannot continue with the folly of a business-as-usual development model. This is costing lives, livelihoods and billions in infrastructure damage."

Another CEEW study published in 2020 had found that 75 percent of districts in India and half of the country's population were vulnerable to extreme climate events.