01/10/2023, 18.02
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Joshimath, the Indian town crumbling at the foot of the Himalayas

by Nirmala Carvalho

For several days, ever-widening cracks have appeared in buildings and roads in the town of some 20,000 residents in Uttarakhand. Speaking to AsiaNews, Fr Ajo Thelappily bemoans “unprecedented landslides”; remember “the people of Joshimath in your prayers,” he asks. Excessive pumping of groundwater for farming is blamed for further weakening an area already geologically unstable.

Joshimath (AsiaNews) – In the northern Indian State of Uttarakhand, at the foot of the Himalayas, the slopes overlooking the town the city of Joshimath are literally crumbling.

Located at about 1,800 metres above sea level, the town is home to some 20,000 people. More than 600 of its 4,500 buildings have cracks and are increasingly unsafe as a result of climate change and a precarious geological structure.

In recent days, a temple has collapsed, increasing the fears of those residents forced to camp outside in the cold.

The crucial Joshimath-Malari road in Chamoli district, which leads to the border with China, also split in several places due to landslides near the Malari taxi station.

Fr Ajo Thelappily is a member of the Carmelites of Mary Immaculate (CMI) and is the parish priest in Jyoti Niwas, a mission located near Joshimath.

"The town has been hit by unprecedented landslides since 6 January. The most affected areas are the slopes of the Auli Valley and some portions of the city of Joshimath,” he said, speaking to AsiaNews.

"About 600 people are the most affected with 150 moved to safer places. For now our area is not affected; government officials call it a safe area, but we don't know what awaits us in the future."

For Fr Thelappily, “The Municipality of Joshimath could take our school to accommodate displaced people. The government of Uttarakhand and India are working to find a solution to the problem. Please remember our mission and the people of Joshimath in your prayers."

What is happening in Joshimath is not unexpected. Over the decades, a lot of groundwater has been pumped out for farming, weakening sand and stone, so that the town is now sinking.

Discussions are underway among politicians as to why nothing was done to prevent something that was predictable.

“When I was Environment Minister, I grappled with the development-environment issue in Uttarakhand,” said Jairam Ramesh, former environment minister in the Union (federal) government of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. “This didn’t win me many friends, but these visuals from Joshimath vindicate my position.”

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