The geographical history of Joshimath and all the disasters in or near the area

The geographical history of Joshimath: Joshimath is a town in the Chamoli District in the state of Uttarakhand in India. Uttarakhand is a unique geographical entity; located at the foothills of the Himalayan mountain ranges, the state is 86% mountainous and 65% is covered by forest. The state of Uttarakhand is seismotectonically an active region of the Himalayan arc and is the main central thrust. The main central thrust is a major geological fault where the India Plate has pushed under the Eurasian Plate along the Himalayas. Hence, is a zone of intense shearing. 

Landslide zones of Uttarakhand | Courtesy: NIDM Report

The Great Himalayas are considered the youngest mountains in the globe. And, they are only 50 million years old. This region is very much prone to disasters such as landslides, flash floods, earthquakes, avalanches, cloudbursts, hailstorms, and glacial lake outburst floods.

Read more: Causes and Disaster Risk Reduction Measures for Hydrometerological Disaster in Uttarakhand, India: An Overview

According to studies, in addition to natural phenomena, various human activities like unscientific development and land use pattern, unwarranted changes of landscape, ecosystem structure and functions, forest degradation, and increasing pressure of tourism have also contributed to the vulnerability of the region to disasters.

Urbanisation and developing infrastructure

geographical history of Joshimath
Uttarakhand Earthquake Hazard zonation map | Courtesy: NIDM Report

The population in Uttarakhand has increased from 8.4 million in 2001 to 10 million in 2011 as per the 2001 and 2011 census. Uttarakhand was formed in 2000. And, when the state was formed the government did not have any concrete policy to accommodate the resultant increase.

Urbanization also resulted in the construction of high-rise buildings. Furthermore, the rivers were the perfect sites for hydropower plants. According to a list by IIT Roorkee, there are almost 49 dams existing or under construction in the Chamoli District alone.

Read more: List of Hydro Power Stations (Existing/ Under Construction/ Development)

Not just this, the rising tourism industry, and the development infrastructure put pressure on the fragile mountain ecosystem.

Read more: URBANISATION, PROBLEMS OF MIGRATION AND ENVIRONMENTAL CHALLENGES IN UTTARAKHAND

List of most of the disasters in Chamoli District:

1803: Earthquake
A highly destructive earthquake with a magnitude of >8 on the Richter scale and causing severe damage in Badrinath Temple.

Also Read:  'It's huge' Joshimath may have sunk by nearly 2.2 feet, More than ISRO's estimate

1893: Flash Flood with landslides in Alaknanda
Floods in the Birahi Ganga river near its confluence with the Alaknanda river triggered landslides, causing a major blockage of the river with a 10-13m afflux. A girder bridge was bypassed and another one was destroyed.

1970: Alaknanda Flood- Flash flood due to cloudburst
A Convoy of 30 buses and 13 bridges was swept away. The 1970 flood was responsible for raising the ecological consciousness that resulted in the Chipko movement in 1973. Studies now support that flood and deforestation in the Alaknanda valley are closely related.

geographical history of Joshimath
Floods in Uttarkashi, India. June 2013 | Photos: Jan Vikas Sansthan (Oxfam India partner)

1999: Chamoli Earthquake
Chamoli was hit by an earthquake with a magnitude of 6.8 on the Richter scale. 106 dead, 5000 houses destroyed. This was the strongest earthquake to hit the Himalayan foothills in more than 90 years.

2004: Hydro-meteorological disaster
This led to landslides leaving 200 pilgrims stranded, and 16 people dead. The road connecting Badrinath and Joshimath was severely affected.

2009: Flash floods
Flash floods in Joshimath resulted in the death of 3 people.

geographical history of Joshimath
Floods in Uttarkashi, India. June 2013 | Photos: Jan Vikas Sansthan (Oxfam India partner)

2013: Cloudbursts resulting in Flash Floods
The whole district of Chamoli was severely affected. The Glacier lake breach in Chamoli triggered a massive avalanche and floods in the Alaknanda river. Affected the connectivity, leaving thousands of pilgrims stranded in Badrinath.

2021: Chamoli Flood
Flooding in the Rishi Ganga river, the Dhauliganga river, and the Alaknanda was caused by large rocks and ice avalanches. Severely affected the town of Joshimath. After the floods, residents began to notice cracks in homes and buildings.

Read more

Disaster Management In Mountain Regions: With Special Reference To Uttarakhand
Recent and past floods in the Alaknanda valley: causes and consequences
World: South Asia Quake death toll nears 100
Cloudbursts Over Indian Sub-continent of Uttarakhand Himalaya: A Traditional Habitation Input from Bansoli, District-Chamoli, India
Uttarakhand Disaster 2013
Detailed Report: Uttarakhand Disaster on 7th February 2021

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