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On February 7, a glacier collapse caused a flash flood, which swept through the Himalayan valley in Uttarakhand, India, killing more than 20 people and trapping hundreds.
While the efforts are still underway to rescue the trapped people, it got international media’s attention.
Many climate change experts have been expressing concerns about the melting glaciers in the Himalayas even before and this flood seems to be the tip of the reaction.
At around 11 pm IST on February 7, 2020, a piece of the Nanda Devi glacier broke off, flooding the Dhauli Ganga river valley. This glacier burst destroyed the Rishiganga hydroelectric project, which is a small dam that produces around 13 MW.
As the glacier collapsed and the flooding went further down the Dhauliganga river, it impacted the larger hydropower project, Tapovan Vishnugad, 5 km down the stream. There were 176 people working at that time in the Tapovan hydropower project and 35 people in the Rishiganga project.
The flooding water was captured by the residents of Raini villages on their mobile phones and it seems to have swept across buildings, farmlands, livestock, bridges and roads.
The officials rushed to evacuate the villages further down the banks of the Alaknanda and Dhauliganga rivers. The Indian disaster response team airlifted the soldiers and members of the Indo-Tibetian border people.
Many people were trapped in the 2.4km tunnel beneath the Tapovan Vishnugad hydropower dam. 12 people were rescued from the tunnel and 34 people are believed to be trapped. The rescue operations are underway with the hope that the workers would still be alive due to the presence of air pockets in the tunnel.
The rescuers are still searching for 171 missing people, according to the Guardian.
While the Indian government is investigating the main reason for this catastrophe, scientists believe that the glacier collapse is linked to climate change.
An avalanche that broke out in the Nanda Devi peak, which is India’s second-highest mountain, is attributed to the sudden flooding in Uttarakhand. As the broken glacier fell into the nearby lake, the water levels rose all of a sudden. This overflow broke out into a flood through the Alaknanda and Dhauliganga rivers damaging villages, bridges and roads in its path.
Scientists believe that human-induced climate change is the main reason for such a sudden outburst since avalanches are not common in Indian winters.
Just a month back, in a paper published in Scientific Reports, it is mentioned, “Along with climate change, glacial melting has been identified as one of the main triggers of landslide activity in high mountain areas.“ And the paper further goes on to elaborate, “Climate change has an indirect effect on landslides occurring at high altitudes by degrading permafrost and melting glaciers which may increase the magnitude and frequency of landslides.”
Already, the glaciers melting from the Himalayas have doubled since 2000 and add to it the glacial burst, avalanche and flooding, the condition seems to be the typical reaction for the hazards brought upon nature.
The glacier collapse in one of the highest peaks in the Himalayas looks like a cry of distress from nature. With so many people killed, wounded and missing, let’s consider this as a wake-up call and check all our actions, directly and indirectly, contributing to climate change.
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