Uttarakhand Floods—The Himalayan Glacier Threat

The breaking of a glacier in the Tapovan-Reni area of Chamoli District resulted in the flooding of the Alaknanda and Dhauliganga rivers, causing widespread damage to nearby houses and power projects like the Rishiganga Hydroelectric Project and NTPC. The incident occurred on the morning of 7th February, and at least 35 people are dead with 204 individuals missing. As rescue operations are underway, the incident serves as yet another reminder of the indignation of nature. 

What Caused the Sudden Water Surge?

The remoteness of the location has contributed to multiple theories surrounding the possible reasons for flooding. Initial studies, however, point towards Glacial Lake Outburst Flood (GLOF) as the perpetrator. A GLOF refers to a sudden deluge of water from a natural reservoir that has formed around a glacier over time.

When glaciers melt, the water from them continues to accumulate resulting in the formation of ‘proglacial lakes’ which get ‘moraine-dammed’—which prevents them from leaving the valley. These lakes are bound by nothing but sediments and boulders. The breaching of these temporary natural dams is no minor occurrence, as they hold millions of cubic metres of water and the potential of damage is intuitive even to the uninitiated. 

There can be a multiple reasons for such a breach, but in this situation—an avalanche was reported two days prior. This could have brought down mud and rocks which could have ruptured the lake. In a BBC report, DP Dobhal, a senior glaciologist formerly with the government’s Wadia Institute of Himalayan Geology said, “This is a strong possibility because there was a huge amount of sediment flowing down.” Nanda Devi area has been receiving heavy snow which also could have led to the avalanche.

Teams of scientists and researchers have been flown out to the calamity location to further inspect and report.

Shown above is the sequence of events and the respective affected areas. [Image Credits: Times of India]

What Is Being Done Currently?

As of 11th February, 3 PM, 35 bodies have been recovered with 204 people still missing, according to the Uttarakhand Police. The search-and-rescue operations that ensued post the calamity consisted of over 2000 personnel from National Disaster Relief Force (NDRF), Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP), the Army and many other disaster management teams.

A majority of the affected individuals were working on the two power projects. The Rishi Ganga Power Plant was hit first, and the debris picked from there further wreaked havoc downstream, where a number of projects were present including the government set-up NTPC plant. Upto 35 workers are believed to be trapped in the Tapovan tunnel, where rescue operations are currently underway. Heavy equipment has been set up at the entry of the tunnel to vacate debris and slush. Rescue teams have also been sent out to the river to be on the look-out for any survivors.

The Prime Minister has granted the families of deceased an ex gratia of Rs.2 lakhs and Rs.50,000 for those seriously injured.

Rescue operations underway at Tapovan Tunnel, two days after a glacier broke off causing a massive flood in the Dhauli Ganga river, in Chamoli district of Uttarakhand. [Image Credits: PTI]

If there was a lesson to be learnt from the 2013 Kedarnath disaster, it was the absolute need for better watershed management and construction policies. June of 2013 saw massive floods triggered by the heaviest rainfall in decades—multi-day ‘cloudburst’, which killed some 6000 people. The ‘net exporter of electricity’ tag that India so proudly boasts of has come at a price that 35 people have already paid for. 

The Chamoli disaster was simply a consequence of the unsustainable infrastructure push India is witnessing. The area has completely been turned into a lifeless energy-churning resource by the Indian Government. The northwestern Himalayan region has seen an average temperature increase, much higher than the global average, of 0.66°C since 1991. It would be naive to ignore the glaringly apparent ties to global warming this tragedy has showcased.

The current situation requires a review of the rate at which destruction of the ecologically sensitive regions of India is taking place. The sustainable goals agreed upon in the Paris Agreement need to reviewed and further enforced. The direction that the government is headed towards with regard to the Climate Change Action Plan seems grimly due to the reduction in the money that has been allotted. It is time to heed nature’s warning.

Featured Image Credits: BBC

Fearsome Freshets—the Karnataka Floods

Torrential rains have battered Karnataka since the first week of August. Several parts of the state are currently facing flash floods for the third consecutive year. The monsoon has caused widespread destruction of property and infrastructure and has also resulted in people losing their lives in the previous occurences. Severe flooding has been reported in Udupi city with other adjacent towns such as Alevoor, Puttige, Gundibailu, Kalsanka, Bailakere, Adi Udupi, Kinnimulki, and Koodavoor bearing the brunt of excessive rainfall.

Residents of Udupi being shifted to safer places in rafts as floodwaters inundated their homes. Image Credits: IB Times

The worsening situation forced the Udupi district administration to summon NDRF teams. They were housed at temporary shelters created by the district administration. Traffic on the roads came to a standstill as the intensity of the rain increased, with areas like Kalsanka, Kaup, and Manipal reporting a complete halt in transportation facilities. Several shops in Udupi suffered as flood water gushed inside their stores, forcing shopkeepers to shift their commodities to safer places.

Red Alerts and Government Relief

Just as the district administration sounded a red alert when the Swarna and Sita rivers started overflowing, three boats capsized in Malpe in the early hours of 20th September, forcing the fishermen on board to take shelter on a rock in the middle of the sea. They were rescued later by the NDRF personnel. Several bridges in Karkala taluk, Udupi district were washed away due to heavy rains while more than 30 houses in Manai village near Hirriyadka were submerged. Senior officers in the government also coordinated with officials from Maharashtra on the release of water from their dams—a significant reason for the floods last year.

Karnataka—getting used to this carnage of rains, every monsoon season—has estimated the losses due to the recent flash floods at Rs. 8,071 crore. “This year’s flood has destroyed the crops in about four lakh hectares of land. We have also experienced the loss of lives, livestock, and damage to the infrastructure including roads, schools, and bridges,” said Chief Minister BS Yediyurappa. He also directed the government to release Rs 50 Crore for relief purposes. While no loss of life has been reported yet, 1107 houses have been partially submerged, 2874 people have been shifted to safer areas, and 31 relief camps have been opened in the state.

Prevention Measures and Subsequent Evacuation

As the dreaded months of westerly monsoon arrived, the government decided to bring about an integrated approach to prevent flooding—starting with dams. “In early years, operators allowed dams to fill to the brim as early as July, and the sudden gush of water caused when the dam gates opened coinciding with the excessive rainfall drowned the unprepared district in the months of August and September. This year, dams will only be allowed to fill completely towards the end of monsoon. We have been updating authorities concerned with weather forecasts using hi-tech systems,” said Manoj R Ranjan, commissioner of Karnataka State Disaster Management Authority.

Reports also suggest that the dam’s side of preparations did not go as planned. Heavy rainfall and massive inflows into the Kabini reservoir at HD Kote in the Mysyru district forced the authorities to release 35,000 cusecs of water from the dam into the Kabini and Cauvery river earlier. This caused the government to order the rescue, evacuation, and safe transportation of citizens to safer regions.

Shops and houses across the town were submerged underwater due to excessive rainfall in this post-monsoon season. Image Credits: Express News Service

A local government official confirmed that 100 relief camps, 300 boats, and 300+ ferries were ready to be called into action in the Belgavi and Bagalkot districts, in case of an emergency. To date, 36 relief camps have been opened, where around 1,250 people have taken accommodation while over 4100 people were shifted to safer areas. NDRF and SRDF teams from Mysuru and Mangaluru headed the rescue operations. As of 20th September 2020, around 50 people were rescued by NDRF personnel.

This is not the first time floods have hit these districts, especially Udupi and Uttara Kannada. Every year these districts are affected by the rain, a lot of people are displaced, loss of life and property is incurred, and livelihoods are ruined—both financially and emotionally. Year after year, all the inter-state agreements and decisions at disaster mitigation within the state have let the people down. The lackluster attitude of professionals managing the system often reflects the fact that they don’t ask the right questions about the issues, which will inevitably lead to the right answers. Taking care of the deluge is important not only to ensure economic prosperity but also to assert the importance of far-sighted goals for the next generation of bureaucrats and officials, and Karnataka hopes to see a better response to the situation in the coming years.

Featured Image Credits: IB Times

Former Kozhikode DC Prasanth Nair Talks About Kerala Rescue Efforts

In what are believed to be the worst floods in Kerala since 1924, hundreds were left dead and thousands more rendered homeless in late July 2018. Former District Collector of Kozhikode and current Deputy Secretary to the Government of India in the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy, Prasanth Nair, and his group of volunteers were some of the thousands who helped out with the rescue operations. Speaking at the venue of the National Conference on Youth in Social Changeat which he was a panelliston Sunday, Prasanth Nair addressed media bodies and later in the day, the general public on this and other topics.

Prasanth Nair first addressed media bodies on issues ranging from his social welfare programs, his online presence, and the Kerala floods. Nair, the founder of the Compassionate Kozhikode initiative, is known for pioneering the use of social media to address various issues of the public as a District Collector. During his tenure, he has initialised various programs like the District Collector’s Internship program, Kozhipedia, Legends of Kozhikode, and the well-received Operation Suleimani. His dedication and connect with the people have won him the title of Collector Bro in the district.

The forum for discussion opened with Prasant Nair sharing his experience with the Facebook page Collector Kozhikode, that was used by the administration to engage with the public. He holds the conviction that communication is not one-way, or for that matter, even two-way, but gets initialised in a forum of numerous people. He differentiated engagement with publicity, saying that the aim was not to get a huge crowd to like the page. Complaints and grievances are received and looked onto here. Rather than pictures of the collector or fancy ceremonies, the posts on this page are a call for action. The page bridges the gap between government and the governed by offering the civil society opportunities to step in when in need of some paraphernalia or during budget constraints.

Talking about the recent floods in Kerala, Prasanth Nair gave a few insights into disaster management. He mentioned that under a new initiative of Compassionate Kerala as part of the relief operations, they were aiming to re-establish the lives of ten thousand flood-affected families. So far, about seven hundred people have signed up for the program, with two crore rupees committed by the public. Nair also mentioned the youth who have actively volunteered for Kerala, taking over the backend operations like tracing locations and work at BPOs. He’d had teams of volunteers from various universities, including ones in Manipal. For instance, SOS call centres in Kerala saw more than four hundred students from Amrita University itself.

Later in the evening, in a session open to the public, Prasanth Nair addressed an interactive session, talking about his experience of the rescue operations in Kerala and offering advice on how we, as citizens, can contribute.

The session began with Nair posing a question to the audiencehow could someone sitting in an office in the city rescue someone stranded in the floods? He answered the question by elaborating on the setting up of call-centres in Chennai and the less affected parts of Kerala. The call-centres entertained any details related to possible evacuations, which helped smoothen rescue operations.  The main objective was to remove duplication of data and get proper documentation of people trapped in different places.

Image Courtesy: Compassionate Kerala

During the conference, Nair took questions from the audience about his experience during the rescue operation. He answered queries on how his team had worked with the local administration on forwarding the distress calls to the Navy. He also spoke about the importance of technology during times of distress. Google Sheets was a widely used tool by the volunteers to keep a track of all the rescue operations. They also formed a group of Navy wives and sisters who sent distress calls to concerned officers. He addressed the importance of social media and technology during times of trouble.

During the course of the session, Prasanth Nair spoke about the various unnerving scenes during the rescue operations. The first anecdote narrated started with a bleeding pregnant woman marooned in the floods with what seemed like no hope for help. Upset and thoroughly dejected, the team had given up hope. However, they woke to the news of the possibility of rescuing the lady, who had managed to survive the night. The operation was successful and the woman and the newborn were both safe and healthy.

While this narrative began in a morose way and ended on a happy note, another incident took the opposite arc. Prasanth Nair’s team had been in constant touch with a man who was stuck in his house with no cause for panic and was hoping to be rescued soon. After a brief loss of communication ended, however,  the team was shocked to discover that the man no longer wanted to be rescued, having just witnessed his wife and children drown in front of him. Through these instances, Prasanth Nair put into perspective the magnitude of the disaster and shone a light on the sheer effort that goes into rescue operations, emphasising the effort made by the rescuers and the emotions involved.

Featured Image: The Photography Club, Manipal

When the Levee Breaks—Manipal Does its Part for Kerala

The late Atal Bihari Vajpayee once said, “I would like that no citizen of the state feels alone and helpless. The entire nation is with them“.

Despite the lack of coverage by mainstream media towards the distress in Kerala and Kodagu due to heavy flooding, the people of Manipal have come together to lend a hand in this time of crisis.

Among the many donation drives organised all over the town, students from various institutes of Manipal Academy of Higher Education came together on 17th August and started a collection centre at KMC Food Court. A group based in Mysore was contacted, that will later be transporting the collected goods via tempos and distributing them in relief centres all over Kerala. Besides this, booths had also been set up at all MAHE institutions, as well as at the local masjid. Collection points were also set up at the School of Communication, St. Joseph’s Church, and the MIT Student Plaza—among other places—on Saturday, the 18th of August, between 9-10:30 a.m.

Efforts in full swing to ship off supplies at KMC, Manipal.

Justin Varghese, a student of SOAHS, emphasised on focussing more on helping in kind, by sending essential materials rather than collecting funds. They succeeded in obtaining a multitude of non-perishable items and hope to play their tiny role in helping our neighbours.  Within two hours of setting up the collection centres, the organisers had to start declining donations, due to having more supplies than they had the means to transport.

If you wish to contribute and help the cause, there are ongoing efforts in Manipal that can enable you to do so. Another collection drive will also be held on the 20th of August. The following are contact numbers regarding the drives in Manipal: 9207173045 and 8296374434

Besides this, one can also send monetary assistance online by using Tez, BHIM, or other UPI apps through the Kerala Chief Minister’s Disaster Relief Fund. For more information, please visit http://keralarescue.in.