Height of vulnerability
Changing monsoon is especially threatening to the Himalayan region
The Himalayas were probably never as precarious as they are today during the monsoons. Travelling through these mountains during the rains now requires not only immaculate planning but also tremendous luck as if tackling a kind of Russian roulette. Landslides,flooding rivers and washed away bridges have become almost commonplace.
The Himalayas, being the youngest mountain range and still actively growing, are no stranger to adverse weather and natural hazards such as landslides and earthquakes. However, in recent years, a broad consensus has emerged that climate change shall affect mountain ranges and regions of higher elevation to a greater extent than the plains.
A 2015 study that maps vulnerability hot spots in the Himalayan range using data from 1951 to 2013 clearly shows an increase in the number of floods and the damage caused.The study was published in the journal Weather and Climate Extremes. The increased damage is partly a result of the escalating intensity of extreme rains,which scientists and climatologists believe is a consequence of climate change.
The pan-Himalayan flooding in 2007 has been followed by yearly reports of such multiple, isolated events in the hilly regions of northern India. Extreme rainfall and associated flooding in Ladakh (2010), Jammu and Kashmir (2013 and 2014),Himachal Pradesh (2012 and 2013) and Uttarakhand (2012 and 2013) set alarm bells ringing due to the sheer magnitude of devastation.The 2013 flash floods in Uttarakhand that affected the Hindu pilgrim towns of Kedarnath and Badrinath the most have been called India’s worst natural disaster since the 2004 tsunami.These are only a few of the major events that found space in national media. Heavy rains, floods and landslides have reportedly accounted for the deaths of over 9,000 people since 2005 and an economic loss running into several thousands of crores of rupees.
What is the reason for the increased vulnerability observed over the past decade? Is it a result of changing climate and the intensification of the Indian monsoon or is it because of urbanisation in the most populous mountain range in the world? Experts say it is a combination of the two.