Uttarakhand disaster: An early warning system for glaciers is needed
By Amitabh Sinha
A relatively low-hanging fruit, but a very effective one, is to set up early warning systems that alert the downstream populations about an impending disaster. This has to be coupled with plans to quickly evacuate local communities to safer regions.
There is little that can be done to prevent the kind of flash floods that struck Uttarakhand last Sunday. Whether caused by lake bursts, excessive rainfall, or triggered by a landslide and avalanche, like what seems to have happened this time, incidents like these are a result of natural processes that can hardly be stopped.
But their frequency, and the destruction they cause, can be minimised.
“A lake burst, for example, does not happen all of a sudden. There are ample indications that can be monitored. Changes in water level, discharge in the rivers, excessive rainfall in the catchment areas, are all things that can be measured. Regular monitoring can sometimes tell us weeks in advance about the danger, and in many cases, it could even be possible to avert the tragedy [...].” says Anil V Kulkarni, a glaciologist and visiting distinguished scientist at Divecha Centre for Climate Change at Indian Institute of Science, Bengaluru.
A few years ago, the proposal to set up such an agency had almost been approved. A National Centre for Glaciology was proposed to be established, all the details for which had been worked out. Even a site for locating the centre, in the Castle Hill Estate in Mussoorie owned by Survey of India, had been identified. In the final stages, however, the Finance Ministry argued that it would be “prudent” to upgrade and strengthen the facilities at the Dehradun-based Wadia Institute of Himalayan Geology rather than set up a new agency.