Uttarakhand Floods Case Study: A Closer Look at What Went Wrong and How to Avert Such Disasters in Future
While doing Uttarakhand flood case study, we found that, A disaster can strike at any time, often without warning. It jeopardises the sense of safety for locals and tourists. While hurting the image of a destination adversely, it puts a state’s disaster management right under the spotlight for scrutiny. If a disaster happens in a state like Uttarakhand, which is eighty-six per cent mountains and sixty-five per cent forests, the severity of the natural disaster is massive, beyond anybody’s imagination.
The purpose of this case study is to understand and discuss Uttarakhand’s plight, its preparedness or the lack thereof to deal with such a natural disaster and steps taken by the state and central government to save its citizens and bring back the state to normalcy. We will also try to shine a light on post-disaster management of the state, including activities to undo the damage that happened along with the criticality of Destination Management Organizations.
What is Uttarakhand Geography Case Study>
The state lies on the Himalayan range’s southern slope. Uttarakhand has high Himalayan peaks and glaciers. Two rivers originate from these rivers, Ganga (the Ganges) at Gangotri and the Yamuna at Yamunotri.
While understanding the Uttarakhand flood case study, lots of geographical challenges came to notice. The type of vegetation and climate change with elevation in Uttarakhand. The glaciers are at the highest elevation points whereas the lower elevation levels are home to subtropical forests. The higher elevations are marked with the presence of bare rocks and ice. On the other hand, the lower elevation is from 9,800 feet to 16,400 feet. It is covered with lush meadows and western Himalayan alpine shrubs. The slope shifts rapidly to host western Himalayan subalpine temperate conifer forests. At 8,500 feet, the vegetation on terrain is western Himalayan broad leaf forests, and below 4,900 feet, it is Himalayan subtropical pine forests. The upper Gangetic plains are deciduous forest, however; the grasslands and Terai-Duar savanna make for lowlands and are mostly the part of Uttar Pradesh border. The latter segments are approved for agriculture purpose in some areas.
The upper Himalayan territories, thick vegetation, snow-covered mountains and dense forest make this state practically inaccessible. Hidden in these mountains are several ancient Hindu and Sikh pilgrimage sites. There are trekking trails that people from all over the world come to explore.
How is The Himalayan Tsunami Case Study?
Even after seven years, the Uttarakhand flood has everybody reeling under its effect. Referred to as Himalayan Tsunami, it all started in June 2013 when the state received extremely heavy rains for several days with multi-day cloudburst. It was the second-worst natural disaster faced by the country after Tsunami 2004. The rainfall caused landslides, and the debris caused blockages in the rivers, causing them to overflow. The neighbouring states like Haryana, Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Western Tibet and Western Nepal along with some parts in Himachal Pradesh experienced heavy rains too. Still, it was Uttarkhand that had more than eighty-nine per cent of casualties hinting at its unpreparedness to deal with the incident of this magnitude and helplessness to do nothing but watch nature’s wrath unfolding like this.
The full impact of the flood was experienced on June 16, 2003, which destructed the bridges and left the states in ruins with more than 300,000 pilgrims and tourists trapped within the valleys.
One of the four Chhota Char Dham sites, Kedarnath is a significant pilgrimage and highest among all twelve Jyotirlingas. During the Uttarakhand floods, Kedarnath was the worst affected area.
The Kedarnath valley ecologically and seismically is a vulnerable and sensitive area. When two massive cloudbursts happened on June 16 and 17, 2003, people had no idea what had hit them.
How much Massive Destruction Case in Uttarakhand?
The temple premise, surrounding areas and town suffered massive destruction. The shine, however, was left unscathed save for a few cracks on the wall caused due to debris flowing from the mountains. A large trailer-size rock flown down with debris acted as a barrier between the flood and temple, directing the water and boulders around the premises and protecting the 1,200 pilgrimage site from the wrath of nature.
In an official statement provided by the Uttarakhand government on July 16, 2013, more than 5,700 people were believed to be dead, including 934 locals. The Indian Army, paramilitary troops and the Indian Air Force saved and evacuated more than 110,000 people stuck in the flood-affected areas to the safety.
The rain received by the state in June was about 375 per cent more than the regular rainfall during monsoon. This unexpected out pour caused the Chorabari glacier to melt, which led to the eruption of the Mandakini River. Mandakini in Sanskrit means, “She who flows calmly”- however, the river is known to turn violent and unpredictable during the monsoon, but in June 2003, it just exploded. This burst resulted in a heavy flood in Kedarnath Dome, Gobindghat, Rudraprayag, Himachal Pradesh and Western Nepal.
The state machinery failed miserably to act on the warnings of heavy rains issued by the Indian Meteorological Department. The public wasn’t notified of the consequences and caught unaware, leading to a large number of casualties and massive loss of property.
Heavy Rainfall Case study in Uttarakhand
Heavy rainfall for four days and melting snow caused the situation to out of hand. Floods caused landslides that damaged properties, houses and killed several people who were trapped in the structures or taking shelters in them. Entire villages like Gaurikund and Ram Bada market were wiped away in floods, leaving no trail of their existence behind. Sonprayag, a bustling commercial area suffered heavy losses of lives and property.
The pilgrimage sites in Uttarakhand, Gangotri, Yamunotri, Kedarnath and Badrinath bustle with pilgrims from all over the country, especially in July and on wards. The flood destroyed the footbridges and roads, rendering all of 70,000 people stuck across the regions because of no means of transportation.
Pilgrims and tourists in locations like Roopkund, Hemkund and the Valley of flowers were stranded for more than three days, with no food and shelter.
National Highway 7 that was the transportation artery between the capital and the region was washed away at various places, slashing the contact and the only means to get out of the area. Since Uttarakhand is a popular tourism destination in summers, the number of tourists and the casualties were more. Since the connectivity was impacted (at more than 450 places) and there was little public knowledge of the impact of floods, people throng to the highways in their vehicles, causing major traffic jam and impacting the relief work adversely.Some of the cars and buses were washed away in floods, adding to the debris and leaving people dead.
Uttarakhand Flood Timestamp Case Study
June 16 and 17, 2003– June 16 and June 17, 2013, saw nature’s fury like never before. According to the survivors and researchers at the Wadia Institute for Himalayan Geology, almost 30,000 people were dead. Five thousand two hundred people were declared missing and nearly 800 decomposed and battered bodies were found during recovery. Over 5,000 buildings were damaged or destroyed.
The official data, as expected, is different from this. Though, the Supreme Court of India reached upon a similar conclusion.
June 18, 2003– It was reported that more than 12,000 pilgrims were stranded at the famous pilgrimage site, Badrinath.
June 21, 2003-The rescuers recovered forty bodies in Haridwar that were washed down by the floods. The bodies of flood victims were found in remote cities like Allahabad, Bulandhshahr and Bijnor.
June 23, 2003– A satellite image from NASA shows a new stream flowing down in the background of Kedarnath temple. Earlier, it was one stream that flew down to become two channels.
It Was a Huge Flood Tragedy
August 13, 2013– Two Supreme Court Judges, K.S. Radhakrishnan and Dipak Misra ruled against the 330-megawatt Alaknanda Hydro Power Project and prohibited state as well as central government from permitting any more hydroelectric projects in Uttarakhand.
This order put the wheels in motion as a directive was also issued to the principal regulatory agency, Ministry of Environment and Forests, to form a special committee to understand the cumulative impact of building damn in India’s most crucial hydropower state.
September 2013– The rescue and search operations were divided into four stages and continued till September 2013. More than 556 bodies were found, including 166 bodies that were heavily decomposed by the time the fourth stage of the search operation was commenced.
Temple Finally Opened in Uttarakhand
May 4, 2014– While the temple remained undamaged during the flood, the perimeter was damaged heavily and inundated with mud, rocks, boulders and water from the landslide.
The rest houses and shops along the temple’s periphery were destroyed, and so were the people residing and taking shelter in them. The substantial damage was primarily caused by the rapid melting of snow and ice on Kedarnath Mountain, which is six kilometres from the temple. It caused panic and the stampede-like situation in the temple, causing many casualties. The extent of damage of Uttarakhand flood in Kedarnath was so worse that the dead bodies were not recovered even after a week, resulting in water contamination and health ailments such as flu and diarrhoea.
Given the extent of damage to infrastructure and health issues plaguing the residents, the Uttarakhand Government decided to close the temple temporarily for tourists and pilgrimage for a year while the temple rituals were to be maintained internally by the priests.
The temple was opened back for the public on May 4, 2014.
Environmental and Climate Factors behind Uttarakhand Floods
Utah State University used simulations and revealed several natural and anthropogenic factors behind the floods. It concludes that
- Northern India received increased rainfalls over the years since the year 1980, which was amplified by the short waves in the upper troposphere due to increased levels of aerosols and greenhouse gases. The post-1980 climate trends were responsible for a sudden spike of 60-90 per cent of rains received by the region.
- The environmentalists across the world blamed unscientific and unethical industrial and residential development undertaken in a fragile ecosystem such as Kedarnath valley. New resorts popping up in every nook and corners along the rivers, road construction in a chaotic manner and the authority’s nod to over seventy hydroelectric projects in the watersheds- Uttarakhand was a ticking time bomb. It wasn’t a matter of ‘if,’ it was ‘when.’
- The tunnels, drilling and blasts carried out for hydroelectric projects shook the ecological balance. The natural flow of rivers was restricted. The development activity made the ground more susceptible to landslide and flooding.
It is okay to feel helpless if it had been a natural calamity alone. It was a man-made disaster that made Uttarakhand a destination for disaster in 2013. The Uttarakhand case study is full of emotions and we are trying our best to bring the facts near our readers.
According to a CSE report in 1996 on changing ecology in the Himalaya, the ecological system of the mountains is well-acclimatised to handle a natural disaster. The natural impression of the valley is such that it should never face the fury of a flood.
Natural Disaster in Uttarakhand Reports
The National Institute of Disaster Management (NIDM) also blamed climatic conditions and arbitrary human intervention in the hills for the Uttarakhand floods. The trekking routes and pilgrimage sites make the state a tourist magnet. The greed often consumes mankind since times immemorial. The residents want to cash in on the tourism influx, and that’s when they turned every small house (which are suitable for hilly areas) into a duplex to accommodate tourists in exchange for money.
The highway access to the state and Delhi-NCR turned Uttarakhand into a weekend getaway to beat the heat in summers. The road network was improved, and it was much easier for a pilgrim or tourist to access these otherwise not-so-accessible shrines in Gangotri, Badrinath and Kedarnath.
In a ‘Live’ TV interview, Nitya Jacob, Programme Director, Centre for Science and Environment on CNN-IBN states, “The pilgrims are increasing, and they are interested in a quick tour of the valley. The local and state machinery downplayed the gravity of the situation, and the cumulative impact of building dams, right and illegal construction carried out by the residents and businesses.”
Contrary to popular belief, it is not the dams that cause landslides. It is their construction method of rock blasting, debris disposal and deforestation that does. Dams, in fact, provide safety against flash floods, as the Tehri Dam did on June 16, 2013. It absorbed a massive flood wave of Bhagirathi River, preventing the downstream flood-damaged in the steep valley area, as pointed out by the then Director of Uttarakhand Jal Vidyut Nigam Limited.
The substantial rise in inflow of tourists resulted in roadblocks, leading the administration to the widening of the roads. The drilling and construction affected the ecological balance and fragility of the mountains, causing the shock waves in the seismically vulnerable region. It is to be noted that the Himalayas are the youngest of the mountains in the world. They have poor soil stability, and it is mainly why the roads in these regions often cave in, wash away, and there are landslides during the rainy season.
The abundant tourism activities attracted land sharks, and in no time, multi-storied lodges and hotels were erected in the eco-sensitive area of Kedarnath and Uttarakhand, mocking the governments and flouting every kind of environmental law one could think of – just so that tourists could enjoy their morning coffee or tea in their balcony overlooking the river and mountain range.
The widespread illegal construction was an eyesore in Kedarnath valley too, but when nature rebooted, and the flash flood occurred in June 2013, all these ugly structures were washed away like a house of cards. Sadly, along with people residing or taking shelter in them!
Jacob also feels that it is a disaster of our own making. According to her, “the rampant construction, illegal projects and traffic imbalanced and impacted the balance of hills.” It takes too little to set off a landslide in unstable hills and Kedarnath; it was way more than it could take. Besides,the Himalayas are young hills, and they are still rising and among the most active earthquake zones across the world. The torrential rains cause the soil to erupt vertically and cause a landslide.
Disaster Management: A Case Study Analysis
The Uttarakhand floods were an eye-opener and brought about the truth of disaster preparedness in India. This case study has opened eyes for many administrative legislative and their careless behaviors towards nature.
Floods in Uttarakhand weren’t a new phenomenon. However, the authorities weren’t competent enough to deal with any disaster and tackle its impact on people or property. There wasn’t any information system in place; the communication and coordination between the authorities were non-existent and reeked of red tape. It was ironic to see officials taking an aerial survey of flood damages and people reaching out to flood-affected victims with food packets, potable water and compensation. Still, none of them reached out before the disaster to warn them of imminent danger. Disaster management requires a proper coordinated network among government and non-government machinery to mitigate the impact of a disaster.
The coordinator of South Asia Network on Rivers, Dams and People, Himanshu Thakkar, explained the connection of hydro power projects and increased vulnerability of the already disaster-prone area. And he warns that if the lessons are not learnt, it will be too late and the stakes will be too high.
What makes it worse isthat the state authorities were passing the buck on the whole fiasco instead of taking collective responsibility.
- In an interview with CNN-IBN the then Uttarakhand Chief Minister Vijay Bahugun said that the Disaster Management Committee in the state wasn’t prepared to handle such a natural calamity of this magnitude and hasn’t had designated representative the last six years for the state.
- In 2013, Uttarakhand Government was spending more than rupees seventy crores to promote tourism. It had an additional relief fund of rupees 23.4 crores as a reversed cash flow for emergencies. Still, many tourists’ experiences account for the lack of sanitation and basic amenities even before the disaster struck.
- As per an estimate, more than three crores people visited the state but officially, as per books, only 2 lakh beds (75 per cent in Dharamshalas and 25 per cent in hotels) could be accounted for.The rest were either sleeping in vehicles or illegal constructions. The misshapen roads, serpentine establishment and one-way highways made matters worse.
- The government didn’t even assign a nodal officer to oversee the yatra arrangements.
- There wasn’t a committee or authority from the government to manage the tourist influx during “Char Dham” Yatra.
- The MET forecasting was inadequate, and it failed to stress the enormousness of the situation in time. It is difficult to make sense to the authorities at times, but a timely warning via proper channels could have reduced the scale of Uttarakhand floods considerably.
- Government’s apathy towards the ecological system of Himalayas needs an overhaul too. The forest cover was reduced to 75.4 per cent in the year 2000 from 84.9 per cent in 1970.
A report by the Comptroller and Auditor General clearly mentions the failure of the State Disaster Management Authority as a governing body. It was formed in 2007 but let alone any progress; there wasn’t even a single meeting to establish guidelines, regulations or rules to frame actionable management plans in the wake of a disaster. This report states that the Geological Survey of India identified 101 villages as vulnerable in June 2008. Still, the government failed to take any action to rehabilitate them even until after the report was written. It shows the incompetence, lack of apathy, the absence of political accountability in the government. The report went on to highlight the government’s failure to invest in an early warning mechanism. The communication system was inadequate, and the lack of trained medical staff also aggravated the problem.
A Case Study About Operation Rahat
Rahat means relief, and it was the name given to the relief operation initiated by the Indian Air Force. The operation entailed the evacuation of civilians stranded in Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh. It was one of the extensive and largest operations of the Indian Armed Forces as well as one of the biggest civilian rescue operations carried out by an armed unit across the world. The IAF airlifted more than 19,000 people and landed 3, 82,400 kg of relief material.
Operation Surya Hope
Indian Army’s Central Command initiated Operation Surya Hope to evacuate and provide relief to flood-affected victims. More than 8,500 armed personnel were deployed in the region. They undertook evacuation, rescue, search task and relief work in a war-like situation and adverse weather conditions. This Uttarakhand flood case study has shown us in many ways about involvement of army personal in every difficult situation.
The restorative work, rehabilitation, relief and rescue mission are an integral part of post-disaster work. Feeding the people and preventing the possibility of an epidemic remains a significant concern in the event of a natural disaster like this.
The then Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh announced rupees 10 billion aid package for the disaster relief and took an aerial survey of the area. Several states including Haryana, Delhi and Maharashtra part with rupees 100 million each for the relief package. The state governments of Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Odisha and Tamil Nadu extended the help of rupees 50 million.
The US Ambassador of India contributed a financial aid of US$150,000 via USAID to the NGOs working in the flood-ravaged area. Another sum of US$75, 000 was offered by the US Ambassador, which was rejected by the government. The Kerala Government’s minister provided a salary of one month and 20 million rupees to the Prime Minister’s fund.
The KailashMansarovar Yatra was cancelled for nine batches. The Chardham Yatra was cancelled for two years for restoration and rehabilitation purposes.
Mass cremation of bodies was planned after one week of tragedy by government agencies and Kedarnath temple committee to prevent the onset of an epidemic.
Local bodies and residents helped the stranded people by enabling communication between their families and with food.
And then there were opportunist criminals who dressed up like sadhus and looted the stranded victims or robbed the damaged buildings and banks.
The staff at Nehru Institute of Mountaineering (NIM) was proficient in high altitude training and was given the responsibility of rehabilitation and restoration of Kedarnath. However, the expert guidance of Colonel Ajay Kothiyal, made it possible within a year and the pilgrimage was opened back for people!
The Uttarakhand flood was the cascading effect of human-driven greed, and human’s tendency to take nature for granted. The environmental degradation imposed on the hills along with the pressure on ecologically sensitive hills were the reasons that the country had to face the worst natural disaster. Due to geo-climatic conditions, Uttarakhand has always been vulnerable to offset of natural calamities like torrential rains, cyclones, earthquakes and flood in every monsoon. In 2013, the early onset of monsoon combined with cloudbursts and landslides wreaked havoc on the state and resulted in the loss of lives and property. While we may have figured out that the balance is the key to make peace with nature, the impact of a natural calamity hasn’t decreased.