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Nature’s warning


The catastrophe that unfolded in Uttarakhand is a stark reminder of how fragile the environment is, and the sooner people understand it, the better. Till Monday afternoon, a total of 14 bodies were recovered while over 170 people are still missing after a glacier break in the state’s Chamoli district resulted in an avalanche and huge floods in the Alaknanda and Dhauliganga rivers on Sunday morning, forcing the evacuation of thousands, and damaging both houses and the nearby Rishiganga and NTPC power projects. The operation jointly carried out by State Disaster Relief Fund (SDRF), Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) and National Disaster Relief Fund (NDRF) to rescue people from a tunnel in Tapovan was underway. The biggest challenge in this rescue operation were the huge heaps of mud. On Monday, reports quoting Uttarakhand DGP Ashok Kumar said that 28 to 30 people are likely to be trapped in the Tapovan tunnel. So far, a total of 15 people have been rescued and 14 bodies have been recovered from different places. Scientists have said that satellite and Google Earth images did not show a glacial lake near the region but there was a likelihood of ‘water pockets’, which might have burst, leading to massive flooding in parts of Uttarakhand after the Nanda Devi glacier broke off at Joshimath. Though it needs further research and analysis, this event is not expected to be a cloudburst since Chamoli’s weather reports showed sunny weather with no reports of rain till Sunday. According to experts, what happened in Uttarakhand is a very rare incident. They say that there’s a possibility of a water pocket in the region, which might have erupted. Experts also said that global warming has led to a rise in temperatures in the region. According to a recent report by the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD), the temperature is increasing in the Hindu-Kush Himalayan region. This, along with global temperature fluctuations, will have further impact in the Himalayan region. A study published in 2019 had warned that Himalayan glaciers have been melting twice as fast since the start of this century due to climate change. The glacier collapse at Joshimath on Sunday led to a massive flood in the Dhauli Ganga river and caused large-scale devastation in the upper reaches of the ecologically fragile Himalayas. The 2019 study, spanning 40 years of satellite observations across India, China, Nepal and Bhutan, indicates that climate change is eating the Himalayas’ glaciers, the researchers said. The study, published in the journal Science Advances in June 2019, shows that glaciers have been losing the equivalent of more than a vertical foot and half of ice each year since 2000 – double the amount of melting that took place from 1975 to 2000. In Kashmir too, the risk of avalances persists and one expects the authorities to understand and be very cautious about any project in the eco-sensitive region. Nature may provide us with all we need but persistent fiddling with it can lead to a catastrophe of unimaginable power.