08/11/2004, 00.00
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Tibet floods: 3,000 people moved to safety and hydroelectric plants shut down

China and India are working together to face emergency situation.

Kolkata (AsiaNews/Reuters) – The threat from overflowing waters from a swollen lake in Tibet has led to the evacuation of about 3,000 people from more than 300 villages in the Indian State of Himachal Pradesh, north of the Union capital of New Delhi. The evacuation order came after Chinese authorities sounded the alarm and informed India via diplomatic channels that a new lake, formed following a landslide that blocked the Pareechu River, might "burst its banks and flood across the border". Consequently, India's army and border police have declared a state emergency and operations are under way to meet the emergency.

 "In the worst-case scenario, if the lake bursts, Sutlej waters could flow at a speed of between 40 to 50 km (25 to 30 miles) per hour and water levels could go above 15 metres (50 ft)," said H.K. Sharma, director of the World Bank-funded Nathpa Jhakri Hydel Hydroelectric Project, which is located downstream from the lake. "The tremendous force of the water could change the surrounding topography completely," Sharma added, "washing away some low-lying towns."

One of three power plants at risk has been partially shut down. And "people have been advised to move to higher reaches in the mountains," Himachal Pradesh Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh said.

The situation arose when a lake was born in late July following a landslide that blocked the Pareechu River, a tributary of the Sutley River, in Tibet. Monsoon rains quickly filled up the new lake basin. Satellite photos now show that the new lake is about 38 km (23 mile) long, less than 1 km (0.5 mile) wide, and 30 m (100 ft.) deep.

India and China are working together to find a solution to the crisis. Beijing has ruled controlled blasting of the landslide to allow the water to gradually drain. In the meantime, Himachal Pradesh is waiting for permission from China before sending flood experts to survey the lake and report on actual threat levels.

In addition to flooding, the Tibet plateau, Asia's largest hydro-graphic basin, is threatened by shrinking Himalayan glaciers. The melting waters of the "Roof of the World" feed seven of Asia's greatest rivers, namely the Ganga (Ganges), Indus, Brahmaputra, Salween, Mekong, Yangtze and Huang Ho (Yellow River) along whose shores 2 billion people live. With glacier ice fields disappearing at an alarming rate the Ganga River alone would lose two thirds of its summer water flow cutting water availability to 500 million people and more than one third of India's irrigated land. (MA)

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