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Himachal Pradesh
Tuesday, July 5, 2022

Blaming nature for disasters is not always justified: Lack of planning, unauthorized & unscientific construction paves the way

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Dharamshala | TNR

Nature’s fury. This is a common restraint every time there is a natural disaster.


However, it is not right to blame nature for disasters like flash floods, landslides, earthquakes, or cloud bursts. Himachal Pradesh is prone to natural disasters. Landslides, flash floods, cloud bursts and earthquakes are quite common in the hill state of Himachal Pradesh.

Experts’ view


Experts are of the view that lack of monitoring, and unawareness, are perhaps the two major reasons which amplify the causalities during any disaster. They say that it is not just earthquakes that kill people. Unplanned and unauthorised concrete structures are the principal killers during an earthquake.

Governments, private builders or individuals carry out constructions in such a manner that at the time of a disaster it is not possible for rescue teams to reach the victims and needy.

Recent flash floods, not an isolated disaster


The recent incident of flash floods at Bhagsunag near Dharamshala is not an isolated natural disaster. It is a process that starts with indiscriminate felling of trees to construct houses or commercial buildings and leads ultimately to landslides. Geology tells us that at first cracks start developing on the surface area of a mountain.

Then water seepage starts loosening the soil, which cannot take the burden of whatever concrete structure is built on it. Then comes the landslide and debris.

Flash floods common in Himachal


Flash floods are also common in Himachal Pradesh. For this, in many areas, mining is responsible. People remove big boulders from streams and rivers ignoring the fact that boulders could reduce the velocity of the water during flash floods thereby accentuating the loss of life and property.

Proper monitoring


Whenever disaster hits and causalities mount, media reports highlight the number of deaths, efficiency of authorities in rescue operations and loss of property. But the question that keep nagging many is about why isn’t there a system of proper monitoring.

Before the onset of monsoon many things can be monitored and analyzed like the quantum of rain? Which areas have maximum load of construction? Where all the water drainage systems are not working properly?

Building code ignored or violated


Most of the people in Himachal either do not know that there is a building code for construction or just do not care. Building code is ignored or violated even in areas that are prone to earthquakes and are in seismic zone V. Even in areas like Dharamshala and Shimla, hospitals and police stations are not quake-proof. They could collapse during an earthquake. Few areas in quake sensitive zones are so congested that these are not accessible by emergency services like ambulances and fire brigades.

Role of geologists

Himachal Pradesh has 12 districts and it is perhaps the only state in India where language, dress code, culture, eating habits, lifestyles and geography varies from district to district. There are mountains with sandstones, clay stones, hard rock, and loose soil. Geologists are the experts in this field who could analyze the strength of the soil and could suggest ways to minimize the risk and damage at the time of disasters. In the case of roads caving in grouting, netting or concrete walls are some of the ways suggested by geologists to prevent land sliding and rocks from getting dislodged.

Rains are only triggering agents


Landslides, flash floods and cloud bursts usually take place in Himachal during the rainy season only. The month is usually August every year. But experts say that rains are only the triggering agents. The process of damaging the earth begins months and years ahead of the natural disaster due to all kinds of unscientific and unauthorized constructions.

Risky areas in Himachal Pradesh


Geological Survey of India (GSI) has done the mapping of those parts of Himachal Pradesh that remain affected most with landslide incidents during the monsoon season. GSI has identified such sensitive areas in Himachal. These include earthquake-sensitive zones and religious tourist places too. This two-year-long project was started in April 2014 and includes the studies of the North West areas of Himalaya. Roads prone to landslides are:
1. Narkanda-Rampur-Khab road.
2. Kangra-Dharamshala-Sihunta-Dalhousie road.
3. Kalka-Shimla narrow gauge railway track.
4. Rohru-Narkanda-Theog-Chail-Solan road.

GSI highlights areas prone to landslides


About 87 areas in Satluj valley, district Kinnaur, have been analyzed as sensitive in respect of landslides. Shri Naina Devi temple area in Bilaspur, Bilaspur-Kiratpur road, three areas in Shimla town, 19 areas in Kullu and Mandi, four areas in Satluj valley of Kullu, 30 areas in Satluj river valley of Shimla and Kullu, 20 areas in Kullu and Kinnaur, two areas in Baira dam site Chamba, 175 areas in Beas valley Kangra, two areas in Dalhousie, one area between Sanawara railway station and Kalka-Shimla railway track and Kandon area of Sirmour district have been declared sensitive by GSI.

Numerous incidents of landslides are reported alongside major roads during monsoon in Kinnaur, Kullu, Shimla, Chamba and Kangra. The sinking of few villages of Rekong Peo and adjoining areas in Kinnaur district has hit the headlines. The mapping of these areas by Geological Survey of India could help now in taking preventive measures in these areas.

GSI report on NW Himalayas


A list of landslides of Northwest Himalaya prepared by Geological Survey of India reveals that Himachal’s worst affected road alignment runs along Ravi river between Gehra and Bharmor in Chamba district. Nearly 50 slope failures have been recorded in this stretch of about 30 km.
The Hindustan-Tibet road alignment between Jeori and Khab is another area that is frequently affected by landslides. The nine major landslides in this stretch are at Poo, Mailing, Urni, Han, Akpa, Shillu, Shiasu, Dabling and Chango, the list adds.

Quotes from experts

“There should be scientific cutting of roads and hills in Himachal Pradesh. Debris during the construction of roads or widening projects should not be dumped in rivers or streams. It is banned in many parts of Sikkim as it is one of the reasons of manmade disasters. Building code should be followed during construction. Geologists should be consulted for public projects like roads and bus stands” said Prof. AK Mahajan, former director of Wadia Institute of Himalayan Geology.

Sunil Dhar, a Dharamshala-based geologist, said that a proper drainage system should be there during constructions of roads, cutting of hills, constructions of retaining walls or any building as this is the only reason behind most of the landslides. “Natural disasters cannot be averted but the risk could be minimized. Tectonic plate movement could be another key reason of landslides,” he said.

“Most of the hill stations in Himachal Pradesh were developed by the British people. These were not made for so much population. Take Shimla for example. The British government had never developed it for the kinds of crowds it attracts these days. Advisories by scientists, geologists and other such institutions should not be taken in a lighter vein as there is no particular time of disasters,” said Yogesh Kumar, an environmental expert.

The former dean of School of Earth and Environmental Science, Dr Deepak Pant, said that environmental changes are taking place across the globe. In Australia, there were abnormally high temperatures in January 2014 (54 degrees C) and at the same time, Canada suffered from extreme cold storms (-500 C). European heatwave in 2003 that killed more than 30,000 people made climate change a global issue, he added.

“At many places, there is an unequal distribution of clouds due to climate change. There should be precautionary measures and experts’ advice should be taken by government authorities,” he said.

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