Investigation Launched After Deadly Himalaya Glacier Collapse

9 Feb 2021 by The Water Diplomat
New Delhi, India

26 have died and as many as 200 are missing after a glacier collapse in northern India on 8 February, causing deadly flooding in the state of Uttarakhand.

On the morning of 7 February the glacier collapsed near Reni village of Chamoli in Garhwal Himalayas of Uttarakhand resulting in a high-speed surge of water to pour down the Rishiganga river completely destroying one hydroelectric dam and damaging another.

Most of those who are still missing had been working on the two dams when the avalanche of water hit, as well as local farmers who had been tending to their sheep. Local authorities ordered the evacuation of hundreds of villages downstream over fears of potential flooding, however, later declared there was no risk.

A rescue mission was immediately launched to recover those who are still missing with the assistance of the Indian Army and members from India's National Disaster Response Force (NDRF). Fifteen workers were rescued today from a tunnel at the NTPC (formerly National Thermal Power Corportation Limited) hydroelectric project, with search efforts now targeted at a second tunnel more than 200 metres long in which more than thirty workers could be stuck.

An investigation is underway to determine the cause of the glacier burst with rising global temperatures causing the Himalayan glaciers to melt at an alarming rate a highly likely factor. Some local activists blame the rigorous building and development of hydropower infrastructure along Uttarakhand’s rivers and mountains, upsetting the hydrological stability of the region.

Due to the vulnerability of the region to intense flooding, locals in Reni village in Uttarakhand had protested against the building of the Rishi Ganga Hydroelectric project – one of the dams that was destroyed by Sunday’s floods - particularly recalling the Kedarnath floods of 2013 which resulted in 6,000 fatalities.

Hridayesh Joshi, author of ‘Rage Of The River – The Untold Story Of The Kedarnath Disaster', told the Guardian: “In this Himalayan area, there are 10,000 big and small glaciers so we should be very careful about building any development projects in this ecologically fragile region, especially as climate change makes it even more fragile.”

He added: “But instead the government wants to exploit hydropower for income and gives approval to all these big dam projects on every river, who we then see flouting environmental laws. We can’t say these projects are entirely to blame for this latest disaster, but they are definitely one of the contributing factors.”

In the wake of the disaster, India’s Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, sent out a message of support on Twitter: “I am constantly monitoring the unfortunate situation in Uttarakhand. India stands with Uttarakhand and the nation prays for everyone's safety there. Have been continuously speaking to senior authorities and getting updates on NDRF deployment, rescue work and relief operations."