The Dramatic Decade of North Eastern Floods

The heedless pursuit of development projects, characterized by the reckless slicing of mountains, uncontrolled deforestation, and the dumping of debris into fragile ecosystems, has led to devastating consequences

A torrential burst upstream of a northern state’s lake has triggered a crisis, causing a dramatic surge in the water levels of the Teesta River within the picturesque Lachen Valley. The situation took a dire turn when additional water was deliberately released from a nearby dam into the already swollen river.

According to authorities, this sudden deluge has led to some military vehicles being engulfed by the slush, compounding the urgency of the situation. As we await further updates, a comprehensive search and rescue mission has been swiftly initiated. Concurrently, rescue operations are being actively conducted in various parts of the state, where entire neighbourhoods have succumbed to the inundation, resulting in significant property damage and mass displacement of residents.

Recognizing the gravity of the situation, authorities have initiated a proactive evacuation effort for individuals residing in low-lying areas. Moreover, the calamity’s impact on transportation services is substantial, with two vital bridges connecting the northern region to the remainder of the state succumbing to the relentless force of the rushing waters.

The unfolding events in this crisis call for heightened vigilance and concerted efforts as the region grapples with the severe consequences of this natural disaster.

More From 2023

Earlier this year, a relentless deluge during the monsoon season wreaked havoc across Northern India, casting a devastating shadow over Himachal Pradesh, Punjab, Chandigarh, Uttarakhand, Jammu and Kashmir, Haryana, Rajasthan, and Delhi.

According to credible sources, an unusual confluence of monsoon downpours and a western disturbance resulted in the region experiencing the heaviest rainfall in decades. This deluge had a cascading effect, causing rivers to swell beyond their banks, triggering extensive flooding and perilous landslides. The unforgiving force of these natural calamities swept away vehicles, dismantled crucial bridges and roads, and inflicted severe disruptions to power and electricity supply networks.

Tragically, reports also confirm that during the month of July, a staggering toll of at least 105 lives was lost in Himachal Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, and Delhi. This grim statistic unfolded over a harrowing two-week period marked by incessant rain and catastrophic flooding. Thousands of individuals were forced to seek refuge in relief camps, underscoring the scale of the humanitarian crisis that gripped the region during this catastrophic episode.

In August, the relentless torrential rain persisted, exacting a further toll on the region’s inhabitants. Tragically, at least 71 lives were lost in Himachal Pradesh, with an additional 10 fatalities reported in Uttarakhand.

Cause of Calamities

The South Asian monsoon season, spanning from June to September, traditionally delivers approximately 80% of the region’s annual rainfall. However, in recent years, India has grappled with heightened and unpredictable weather patterns, with the monsoon season losing its historical reliability. The ongoing bout of heavy rainfall followed closely on the heels of an intense heatwave that had already afflicted large parts of northern India.

While the causes of flooding are multifaceted, experts emphasise that climate change plays a pivotal role in the increasing frequency and severity of heavy rainfall events. This alarming trend underscores the urgent need for climate mitigation and adaptation measures to safeguard vulnerable communities in the face of such extreme weather phenomena.

According to experts and researchers, it is becoming increasingly evident that the approach of Development Project Report (DPR)-based development has had detrimental consequences, signifying a pivotal lesson to be gleaned from recent events.

This lesson is starkly illustrated by the fact that the most extensive destruction occurred in regions where large-scale infrastructure projects, road expansion initiatives, and four-lane road constructions have been pursued in recent years. Experts attribute this devastation to a combination of factors, including the fragility of the soil, the failure of drainage systems, the indiscriminate disposal of substantial debris into rivers, and unregulated illegal mining activities in riverbeds. In essence, they characterize this as a ‘man-made’ catastrophe that has befallen the Himalayan region—an unfortunate outcome of planned activities gone awry.

With regards to a similar incident in July this year, according to a report by Outlook India, meteorological data provides substantial backing to such disasters. Between July 7 and 11, Himachal Pradesh experienced a staggering 249.6 mm of rainfall, constituting nearly 30 percent of the entire monsoon precipitation for the year. Consequently, these rains gave rise to unprecedented floods, accompanied by extensive landslides.

The current development model, as underscored by the report, is profoundly flawed, ill-conceived, and fundamentally misplaced. It is noted that the mountains have historically served as a natural barrier, protecting the region’s resources and security. However, recent practices have involved the cutting down of mountains at a 90-degree angle, as opposed to more environmentally sustainable step or terrace cutting methods. This has been done in pursuit of road expansion projects and the construction of National Highways (NHs) and four-lane roads to cater to the state’s needs for tourism and economic development. Notably, these projects have resulted in the felling of hundreds of thousands of trees, as seen in initiatives like the Parwanoo-Shimla four-lane project and the Chandigarh-Manali project.

Furthermore, the report highlights the concerning practice of dumping the entire debris generated from such projects on hill slopes and into rivers. Additionally, the alteration of river courses to facilitate hydro-power projects has been carried out, effectively playing with the balance of nature. This has led to the narrowing of river courses and the accumulation of silt on riverbeds, elevating water levels. Consequently, the rivers have exceeded their artificially defined boundaries, breaching human settlements and sweeping away anything in their path. This alarming situation, as detailed in the report, underscores the profound environmental and human consequences of such developmental practices.

The recent environmental and humanitarian crises stemming from flooding and landslides in the Himalayan region underscore a critical lesson that cannot be ignored. The heedless pursuit of development projects, characterized by the reckless slicing of mountains, uncontrolled deforestation, and the dumping of debris into fragile ecosystems, has led to devastating consequences. As we grapple with the aftermath of this man-made disaster, it is imperative that we reevaluate our development models, prioritize sustainable practices, and work harmoniously with nature rather than against it. The Himalayas serve as a stark reminder that our actions today profoundly impact the world we leave for future generations, compelling us to make conscientious choices that prioritize both progress and the planet.