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Ticking time bombs in Uttarakhand

Chorabari lake after the Kedarnath disaster. The 19,402.08 square metre Chorabari lake breached on the morning of July 17, 2013 causing floods in the Kedar Valley and killing over 4,000 people. Photo: Special Arrangement  

A loud sound resembling an explosion that Vipin Tewari had heard two years back while he was in Kedarnath continues to haunt him.

“It was June 17 [2013] and in the wee hours of the morning the sound of an explosion coming from behind the Kedarnath shrine alerted everyone in its vicinity. Instantly large volumes of water started flooding the Kedarnath town,” Mr Tewari recounts.

About 1.5 kilometres upstream of Kedarnath, the Chorabari lake had breached on the morning of June 17 following heavy rainfall.

“Within 10 minutes the valley transformed into a graveyard. I was saved because I ran to the top of a three-storey building while beneath me everything and everyone was swallowed by the fierce current,” Mr Tewari, whose shop at the Kedarnath township was destroyed in the disaster, said.

Two years later, researchers and glaciologists often trek to study the glacial lake which, when it breached, killed over 4,000 people.

According to a recently published Glacial Lake Inventory done by the Dehradun-based Wadia Institute of Himalayan Geology, there are 1,266 glacial lakes in Uttarakhand with sizes varying from 500 square metres to 2,44,742.3 square metres.


BasinsGlacial Lakes


While Sangeeta Devi living with three daughters in a village 50 km from the Kedarnath shrine continues to mourn the death of her husband, the only earning member in the family, and several other deluge-hit people continue rebuilding their lives , the Uttarakhand government is yet to identify glacial lakes that could be a threat to people.

Piyoosh Rautela, Executive Director of the Uttarakhand Disaster Mitigation and Management Centre, which is a part of the Uttarakhand government’s disaster management department, said, “It is difficult to monitor the glacial lakes. The State government has neither the manpower nor the resources to monitor them. Besides, we must be told [by the concerned agencies] about the specific lakes that need to be monitored.”

Ticking time bombs in Uttarakhand


While the urgency to monitor the glacial lakes has been acknowledged by the concerned agencies, lack of communication between various agencies continues to be a hindrance.

Professor Anil K. Gupta , who is the Director of Wadia Institute, said, “It is the prerogative of the State government agencies to monitor the glacial lakes . We are ready to provide technical assistance to the State government provided we receive a proposal on the same from the government.”

Climate Change experts have said that the Kedarnath disaster was triggered by “extreme weather condition including extreme rainfall which can be linked to climate change”.

Glacial retreat too is being identified as a consequence of climate change. And it has been warned that with time, as glaciers retreat, more glacial lakes with larger areas would be formed.

Acknowledging the threat posed by climate change with respect to glacial lakes, the Uttarakhand Action Plan on Climate Change, 2014, mentions: “It is important to identify these [glacial] lakes and assess their devastation potential so as to plan for this contingency well in advance.”

Though the glacial lakes are ticking time bombs that could be catastrophic to people residing in the concerned river basins, the State government is yet to take cognisance of these lakes and cater to the pressing need to monitor them.

Produced under Earth Journalism Network’s ‘The Third Pole Geo-Journalism Fellowship’

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Printable version | Oct 16, 2021 1:41:03 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/Glacial-lakes-Ticking-time-bombs-in-Uttarakhand/article10400445.ece

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