Disaster-like situation in Uttarakhand flags need for ecologically-protective development priorities in state
Very heavy and concentrated rain, landslides, heavier-than-expected water flows and floods have led to 46 deaths with 11 people reported to be missing
This week, many parts of Uttarakhand again faced a disaster-like situation due to very heavy and concentrated rain, landslides, heavier-than-expected water flows and floods. At the time of writing on Wednesday evening, 46 deaths have been reported and 11 people are reported missing. Rescue work by National Disaster Response Team and other agencies resulted in timely rescue of several 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 due to disasters, but this time it appears that there have been more deaths and heavier damage in Kumaon. Even Nainital was cut off for some time.
In Ramgarh Talla, it appears that the situation has been particularly devastating. Videos from there also give an idea that a lot of damage in interior areas has taken place which may not capture the 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 longer-term relief and rehabilitation plan.
Houses need to be repaired. Those in more dangerous situations 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 households is higher in Uttarakhand as such a large number of young men go out in search of livelihoods.
Many village paths have also 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 was exceptionally heavy rain in concentrated time, but could there be something more to it? We should learn from the experiences to plan ahead in these 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.
The 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, such a disaster in October means that the damage from excess rain will continue right till the Diwali days and the cycle of recovery and preparing for the winter ahead would get 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 perished in Pauri Garhwal has re-emphasized, migrant workers who not very familiar with Himalayan conditions remain a vulnerable lot at the time of disasters there.
Keeping in view the increasingly uncertain weather and more particularly the greater likelihood of heavy and concentrated rain events, clearly the need for more ecologically protective development priorities has been re-emphasized once more.
(The writer is a journalist who has reported frequently from Uttarakhand)