Height of vul­ner­a­bil­ity

Chang­ing mon­soon is es­pe­cially threat­en­ing to the Hi­malayan re­gion

Down to Earth - - HIMALAYAS -

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.

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