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Himalayan Floods: beginning of inevitable catastrophe

Landslides and cloud bursts are common in the Himalayan region but floods aren’t. These days we hear a lot about floods in Himalayan towns.

By parasjoshe
New Update
Himalayan floods

The memories of the 2013 Uttarakhand disaster are fresh in minds of everyone. Sings of destruction can be still seen in Kedarnath to date which resulted in the loss of more than 6000 lives. Landslides and cloud bursts are very common in the Himalayan region but floods aren’t. These days we can hear a lot of incidents about floods in Himalayan towns. The Himalayas are home to different varieties of rare flora and fauna.

The Himalayas cover over 2,400 km and has more than 15000 glaciers. Major Indian rivers and river systems like Ganga, Brahmaputra, and Indus have their origin from these glaciers. Last year, Chamoli district of Uttarakhand saw a major disaster when a piece of glacier fell into the river and caused the Dhauliganga River to flood. Two different power projects were destroyed. The disaster left over 200 people missing or killed. Dhauliganga which is one of the tributaries of Ganga has several different power projects despite being in a geographically fragile region. The main cause of floods in the Himalayan region is landslides. 

Rini was the main affected area in 2021 floods. Part of glacier was broken from Nanda Ghunti
Rini was the main affected area in the 2021 floods. Part of the glacier was broken from Nanda Ghunti

Melting glaciers and Rising water-level

Climate change has a major effect on the increasing number of these floods. Glaciers are melting at a significant rate. In a study led by the Geographical Survey of India, it was found that the mean retreat rate of Hindu Kush Himalayan glaciers is 14.9-15.1 meters per year. In addition, it is 12.7-13.2 meters per year in Indus, 15.5-14.4 meters per year in Ganga, and 20.2-19.7 meters per year in Brahmaputra River basins. The study also stated that a few glaciers in Uttarakhand are melting at an alarming rate. The study found that the Dokriani Glacier in the Bhagirathi basin is retreating at 15-20 meters per year since 1995, whereas Chorabari Glacier in the Mandakini basin is retreating at 9-11 meters per year during 2003-2017.

Important to note, Bhagarati and Mandakini are tributaries of the Ganga River and Chorabari lake which is formed by the melting of the Chorabari glacier was the cause behind the Kedarnath flood.  

Lake ( fig 5) was formed just above Kedarnath temple( fig 3 )

Lakes in Himalayas

Lakes are formed in upper Himalayas and water is dammed when landslide occurs. The main reasons for these landslides are seismic activities or rainfall. When the debris can’t restrain the water, it results in outburst of these lakes which causes the flood in the area. These lakes sometime take years to form.  Landslide dammed lake (Gohana Tal) of Birahi Ganga river, was formed in course of 76 years and caused floods in 1970. It destroyed the town of Srinaga(Garhwal), and the Ganga canal downstream in Haridwar. These floods can have serious impact in the area downwards to it. Increase in water level of any of the tributary of Ganga will lead to floods in it and ultimately in gangetic plains of UP, Bihar, and West Bengal. 

Ganga and its tributary.
Ganga and its tributary


Himalayan region is very sensitive and falls under seismic Zone 4 or 5 which means it is under the High Damage Risk Zone. Any major project can lead to a big earthquake. Population in the Himalayan region has boomed from 20 million to 60 million in the last 5 decades. This increase in population results in more development work in the area. Trees are uprooted in large quantity, dams are built, and roads are constructed which ultimately results in a disturbance of ecology in the area. If you try to change nature it will someday retaliate. Assam floods are caused every year because we have seized the land from the river and changed its path and it will claim what it has lost which results in disaster and leads to the loss of a lot of lives.

Majorly these accidents occur during the months of July, August, and September which are peak monsoon months in India.  

Few major disasters in the upper Himalayan regions


Nature is trying to tell us that we are exploiting it too much and we need to stop and recalibrate our actions. Sustainable development is the only answer to this solution. We should only take how much we need from nature and give it back from time to time by planting trees. The rate at which glaciers are melting is worrying. Calamities in the upper Himalayan region should be taken into concern as the frequency of these disasters is increasing with every year passing. One of the main reasons for these floods according to locals is the Tehri dam. The dam began its construction in 1978 and was operational from 2006. The impact wasn’t seen right away but took several years. Development is necessary but what is its benefit if it causes harm more than good?  We should see these disasters just as a sign of something big to come.  

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