Last Sunday’s glacier breach, which caused a huge loss of life and property, with a number of people reported missing more than 24 hours after huge mounds of water came gushing down, sweeping under the pressure several humans, under-construction power dams and other structures, should serve as a warning against tinkering with nature. Reports spoke of at least 20 bodies being recovered from the debris of the devastation while the search and rescue operations for over 150 missing people were still on.
No immediate cause for the glacier in the Tapovan region of Chamoli in Uttarakhand to break off was given, but hydro-scientists are convinced that climate change, coupled with the fast pace of development, most likely triggered the loosening of the lake-like part of the glacier. Mercifully, the response of the disaster management teams and other rescue squads was prompt and helped in saving several people trapped under the debris caused by the gushing streams of flood-like waters.
Two hydro power projects, one in the private sector and the bigger one by the NTPC, suffered major damage. Early reports said that a majority of the victims were attached with these two power projects. Expectedly, the tragedy in the Himalayas has led the environmentalists to utter sotto voce, 'We told you so'. A forewarning of the 'impending disaster,’ it is claimed, was given when a local activist filed a PIL against the private sector hydro power project but it was rejected by the courts.
What is far more plausible is the global climatic changes leading to the glacier breaking off, especially when the normal temperature during this time of the year has gone up, from the earlier minus 14 to 16 degrees to about minus two degrees only. A number of extreme weather events globally in recent years have caused frequent wild forest fires, cyclones, record high temperatures, unusually heavy rainfalls, etc., all due to global warming. India cannot be isolated from global environmental changes. Eventually, there is no escaping humankind’s dilemma of development versus environmental degradation.
Unless the Paris Accord on reducing global temperature by two degrees by 2050 is implemented, with every nation working towards reducing its carbon footprint, there shall be no stopping nature from getting her own back. Pressures of a rising population and reckless devastation of the natural habitats of man and other species together cause nature to periodically wreak havoc. The way the entire hilly terrain in Uttarakhand is being usurped for economic development and human habitation, destroying much of its flora and fauna in the process, can only manifest itself in more such 'extreme weather events.’ Sunday’s glacier split should serve as a warning against riding roughshod over environmental concerns.