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The Time Has Come For Himalayan Rivers To Need Special Attention – IMPRI Impact And Policy Research Institute

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The Time has come for Himalayan Rivers to need Special Attention

BHANVI

Introduction

The Himalayan region is anticipated to be vulnerable to the effects of climate change due to its delicate geo-ecological characteristics, and its strategic position in relation to the eastern Himalayan terrain and international borders. Moreover, the  transboundary river basins, such as The Ganga, Indus, and Brahmaputra are also home to the Himalayas and its inherent socio-economic instability  making it prone to disasters. These effects pose significant challenges to the environmental security and sustainability of the region. Himalayas, ‘the third pole on Earth’, are vulnerable to climatic changes due to the presence of a large number of glaciers and glacial lakes.

Impacts of Climate Change On Himalayan Rivers

According to the United Nations, climate change refers to long-term shifts in temperatures and weather patterns. As a result, changes in weather conditions, precipitation rates, and frequent disasters are being experienced in the Himalayan region. The impacts of climate change are clearly visible in recent floods along the banks of the Teesta River in Sikkim, frequent cloudbursts, and heavy downpours of rain in Himalayan regions that demolished infrastructure costing crores and caused loss of lives of both humans and animals.

In the year 2023, Shimla alone witnessed landslides near the Hindu Shiv temple that took a toll on the lives of hundreds of people resulting in the loss of communication channels and disrupting the smooth flow of transportation as well. Moreover adding to the fuel, the Himalayan region is both tectonically and seismically a susceptible domain that can give rise to earthquakes as well.

Sikkim Flood: Teesta River 

According to a report released by the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD), rivers in eastern and northeastern India including the Brahmaputra, Ganga, and Teesta, saw a rapid increase in stream flow followed by water scarcity, leading to the development of glacial lake outflow. That Glacial Lake Outburst (GLO) in South Lhonak Lake in North Sikkim caused devastating floods in the Sikkim Region that resulted in the rise of river water by 50-60 feet in height (source- Ministry of Defence).

GLO concluded with the deposition of heavy mud and silt along the banks of rivers and impacting infrastructure. Ecology and biodiversity of the nearby area. The lifeline of Sikkim, National Highway-10, was also rendered unusable due to damages to the road surface and many bridges across the Teesta River. 

Altogether, it impacted the local community specifically the Lepcha Community which had earlier raised environmental and cultural impacts of the construction of the Teesta III dam, in Chungtang town. The Blue Economy of Sikkim region also faced hardships due to the loss of marine fauna and devastated the infrastructure as well as the tourism industry causing a fall in the GDP of Sikkim for the month of October.

Challenges

  • Overconstruction- It is rightly said by Mahatma Gandhi Ji that there is enough for everyone’s needs but not for everyone’s greed. Due to human greed, there is a vast disregard for the natural world, and over construction of bridges, dams, etc has resulted in climate change that is to be blamed for cloudbursts, floods, and landslides.
  • Water-Borne Diseases- Because of frequent floods there are chances of a rise in water-borne diseases that cause a burden to health infrastructure as well as reduce the productivity of human capital. 
  • Tourism- Being a fragile economy, it is less preferred by tourists which impacts its major revenue-generating industry i.e. tourism industry. As a result this region also faces cultural isolation as it is not able to mingle with the rest of the world causing a feeling of alienation and deprivation giving rise to organized crime.
  • Lack of Flood Cushion- Despite being prone to floods there is no particular infrastructure development for controlling floods and even the early warning signals are  not being used at  best.
  • Encroachment of Wetlands- A decrease in wetlands is also a major reason for climate change that results in glacier melting leading to a reduction in permafrost and Glacial Lake Outbursts Flood and leading to global warming.
  • Inadequate Towm Planning- Due to loopholes in the system there is no particular committee to look after the town planning for ecologically fragile regions which makes it more vulnerable to natural disasters.

Suggestions

  • Appointment of Dedicated Committee– A proper committee should be formulated that will include scientists, geologists, environmentalists, and administrators, who will look into the nitty gritty of the area and make allotments within the carrying capacity of the region.
  • Environment Impact Assessment (EIA)– Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) is a valuable tool for proactive disaster management. EIA involves assessing the potential ecological consequences of various projects or developments before implementation.
  • Involvement of Local Community and Student Groups- Locals are more familiar with the topography of the region so they can better assess the threats in the area accordingly they can create awareness and take necessary steps for the prevention of disasters. 
  • Teesta Megafan- It is the largest drainage basin that is home to many microbes and marine species that help in regulating the delicate ecological balance of the area, contributing to its serene environment. Hence, proper research should be conducted in this area that can help with a proper assessment of the carrying capacity of the area. 

Way Forward

 The concept of coexisting harmoniously with nature has long been an essential element of the culture, traditions, and ways of life for sustainable survival on this planet. The two notably severe cloud burst events in 2004, one in the western Meghalaya hills and the other in Western Arunachal Pradesh serve as a clear testament to the urgent need for focused attention on the Himalayan Rivers.

These incidents have resulted in recent flooding disasters. To address this issue, it is imperative to take preventative measures and control activities that can exacerbate the situation. These activities include deforestation, excessive agricultural expansion, and the construction of buildings, roads, embankments, bridges, and barrages. By curbing these actions, we can mitigate the severity of the impact on the dynamics of the river basin, ultimately safeguarding the region from catastrophic consequences.

References

Contributer, I. E. (2023, October 13). Teesta River Flooding and the Case of Environmental Degradation in India’s North-East. Retrieved from https://thegraduatepress.org/2023/10/13/teesta-river-flooding-and-the-case-of-environmental-degradation-in-indias-north-east/

Karmakar, R. (2023, October 13). Sikkim flash floods | The river runneth over. https://www.thehindu.com/sci-tech/energy-and-environment/the-river-runneth-over/article67417206.ece

Rathore, V. (2023, October 9). ‘Ticking time bombs’: Sikkim floods a reminder of why locals opposed dams in the Himalayas for years. https://scroll.in/article/1057269/ticking-time-bombs-sikkim-floods-a-reminder-of-why-locals-opposed-dams-in-the-himalayas-for-years

Floods: How to protect your health. (n.d.). https://www.who.int/news-room/questions-and-answers/item/how-do-i-protect-my-health-in-a-flood?

Goyal, M. K., & Goswami, U. (2018, January 1). Teesta River and Its Ecosystem. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-981-10-2984-4_37

Figure 6. Outlet of the Teesta river from the Himalaya forming deephttps://www.researchgate.net/figure/Outlet-of-the-Teesta-river-from-the-Himalaya-forming-deep-canyon-photograph-taken-in_fig11_316860703

Sharma, A., & Goyal, M. K. (2020, January 1). Assessment of the changes in precipitation and temperature in Teesta River basin in Indian Himalayan Region under climate change. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.atmosres.2019.104670

Harris, J. (2019). Issue 112 (2017) Full issue PDF. Amicus Curiae. https://doi.org/10.14296/ac.v2017i112.5029

Banerjie, M. (2023, October 6). What turned Teesta into a killer? Here’s proof Sikkim flash floods are a man-made disaster. Retrieved from https://theprint.in/opinion/what-turned-teesta-into-a-killer-heres-proof-sikkim-flash-floods-are-a-man-made-disaster/1792214/

Banerjie, M. (2023, October 6). What turned Teesta into a killer? Here’s proof Sikkim flash floods are a man-made disaster. Retrieved from https://theprint.in/opinion/what-turned-teesta-into-a-killer-heres-proof-sikkim-flash-floods-are-a-man-made-disaster/1792214/

Kumari, S. (2023, October 6). Sikkim flash flood: Toll rises to 41, search on for 103, including 15 Armymen. Retrieved from https://indianexpress.com/article/india/sikkim-flash-flood-toll-rises-to-41-search-on-for-103-including-15-armymen-8971020/

Kumari, S. (2023, October 6). Sikkim flash flood: Toll rises to 41, search on for 103, including 15 Armymen. Retrieved from https://indianexpress.com/article/india/sikkim-flash-flood-toll-rises-to-41-search-on-for-103-including-15-armymen-8971020/

Irrigation & Waterways Department. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://wbiwd.gov.in/index.php/applications/flood_mgmt

The Himalayas. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://archive.internationalrivers.org/campaigns/the-himalayas

South Lhonak GLOF Triggered Flood in Teesta Because Warnings Remained Neglected. https://thewire.in/environment/sikkim-glof-triggered-flood-in-teesta-because-warnings-remained-neglected

Dutta, T. (2023, October 13). The heavens open in the Himalayas – and the people down below pay the price. Retrieved from https://www.thenationalnews.com/weekend/2023/10/13/climate-change-himachal-pradesh/

Correspondent, H. (2023, October 5). Explosives, ammunition may be found along Teesta banks, warns Sikkim govt. Retrieved from https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/explosives-ammunition-may-be-found-along-teesta-banks-warns-sikkim-govt-101696506563888.html

Khadka, B. N. S. (2023, October 9). Sikkim: Deadly Indian glacial lake flash flood exposes lack of warning system. Retrieved from https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-67050830

Northeast India flood: Man-made disaster worsened by climate change. (2023, October 16). https://southasiajournal.net/northeast-india-flood-man-made-disaster-worsened-by-climate-change/

ICIMOD report rings warning bells for rivers of East, Northeast India. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.downtoearth.org.in/news/climate-change/icimod-report-rings-warning-bells-for-rivers-of-east-northeast-india-90154

Disclaimer: All views expressed in the article belong solely to the author and not necessarily to the organisation.

Acknowledgment: The author would like to thank Priyanka Negi for her kind comments and suggestions to improve the article.

This article was posted by Tanu Paliwal , a research intern at IMPRI.

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