Rush to rescue dam victims in Uttarakhand tragedy
About 197 people are still missing in flooding caused by glacier collapse. Doubts are growing over India’s hydroelectric plans. In the name of “clean” energy, the authorities plan to build a dam every 32 kilometres in the Himalayas.
New Delhi (AsiaNews) – India is reckoning with the aftermath of Sunday's tragedy caused by the collapse of part of a glacier in Uttarakhand, an Indian state in the Himalayas, which sent a deluge of water and silt into the Dhauli Ganga Valley, sweeping away two dam construction sites.
In his report to parliament, Home Affairs Minister Amit Shah said that 20 people died in the flooding with 197 currently missing. He added that 25 to 35 people are believed to be trapped in a tunnel at one of the construction sites and that rescue teams are trying to reach them.
Notwithstanding the immediate aid to those affected, what has happened once again is raising doubts about the Indian Government's decision to invest heavily in the development of hydroelectric power in the Himalayas with the aim of boosting energy production whilst cutting back fossil fuel emissions.
In an editorial published today, The Hindu newspaper notes that dams are planned for as many as 28 river valleys in the hills. If they are all completed over a few decades, the Indian Himalayas will have one dam for every 32 kilometres, one of the world’s highest densities, in a region with high seismic risk at a time when climate change is making many areas more geologically unstable.
The International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD), a Himalayan regional body based in Kathmandu that includes Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, China, India, Myanmar, Nepal and Pakistan, is also sounding the alarm.
For ICIMOD Director General Pema Gyamtsho, the pictures from Uttarakhand are “once again a grave reminder about how our shared mountain region is fragile and vulnerable”.
“This,” he added, “is an important moment for the Hindu Kush Himalayan countries to pause and reconsider development in the mountains given the emerging risks posed by climate change.”
In fact, “While we need infrastructure and other projects to ensure the lives and livelihoods of mountain communities, we also need to look at ways of development that consider the fragility of these areas, recognize the inherent risks, and the implications of cascading effects on downstream areas.”