Harish Jharia

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24 June 2013

16th June Uttarakhand floods and cloudburst on Kedarnath Hills: how could the disaster be minimized?


- Harish Jharia

How and why did the devastation occur:

16 June 2013 was the worst day in the history of Kedarnath shrine that turned into a real hell for the next 24 hours until 17th June 2013, stranding 50,000 plus pilgrims, leaving more than 19,000 people missing and 5000 feared dead in the catastrophe.    

The nightmarish deadly episode is believed to have been initiated with incessant heavy rains followed by a massive cloudburst that resulted in fragmentation and landslides of Kedar Dome Mountain due to enormous accumulation of water in the valley.  Huge masses of mud silt and rocks along with heavy floods of rainwater swept down the mountains engulfing the Kedarnath Shrine and the township around the holy pilgrimage. 

The weather conditions in the valley started deteriorating on Saturday the 16th June and turned into a mammoth devastating machine after Mandakini River began to swell and enormous floodwater swept down the mountains. Subsequently, in the early hours of Sunday the 17th June, the deadly cloudburst took place and a huge volume of rainwater flooded down the hills with massive deadly force. 

Huge rocks broke away from Kedar Dome Mountain and rolled down towards the Kedarnath Shrine. These mammoth rocks got stuck at some distance from the temple, thereby forming an obstruction for the flooding water, mud silt and debris to strike the Kedarnath Temple. These rocks diverted the direction of the flow of mud and sludge, away from the main temple and prevented its destruction. Nevertheless, the ‘Himalayan Tsunami’ devastated everything else in the Kedarnath Township that came in its way.



Where the Government failed in protecting Kedarnath Shrine and pilgrims:
  1. The cloudburst, fragmentation of mountain and floods were natural disasters that could not be stopped or averted by human efforts. Nevertheless, proper advanced precautions, weather forecasting arrangements and hi-altitude civic management (town planning) could have reduced the devastation and deaths of thousands of innocent pilgrims. 
  2. Weather / Cloudburst forecast and precautions:
  3. There is a misconception in the minds of people and the government that ‘cloudbursts’ cannot be predicted. Experts say that tailor-made cloudburst forecast equipments are available in the world that could be installed at places like Kedarnath, Badrinath etc where thousands of pilgrims use to visit round the year. Such infrastructures may also be installed at the tourists’ places at hi-altitudes where possibilities of cloudbursts are there.
  4. The authorities should also take precautionary measures for reducing the probable devastation and deaths. They could be something like the following:
  5. Hi-tech weather and cloudburst forecasting infrastructure should be installed at these vulnerable places. 
  6. Huge and strong concrete walls should be constructed around the shrines and localities at the bases of the hills, in order to divert the flow of flood waters. 
  7. Deep rooted trees and thick shrubs should be grown on the hills and mountains for avoiding landslides and fragmentation of the hills and mountains.
  8. All the hilly roads should have extra strong reinforcement done along the slopes beside them. 
  9. Extra strong reinforcement is also required to be provided at the banks of rivers like Mandakini where residential buildings, hotels and commercial structures are constructed alongside. Many buildings were uprooted and catapulted when the flood-waters swept away the earth at riverbanks during the Kedarnath catastrophe. 

Disaster management:

Disaster Management, an essential requirement in modern-day civic life is practically nonexistent in India. India will have to work on something like the following lines:
  1. We should have an effective Disaster Management infrastructure and a dedicated workforce to implement its activities. 
  2. There should be a laid-down drill specified for the Disaster Management Authorities without any confusion, bias or prejudice. 
  3. The State Government as well as the Central Government should be equally responsible for addressing the emergency crisis.
  4. The concerned Collector, state and central Ministers and other civic officials should reach the affected place or at the nearest possible locations for managing the activities of Disaster Management. 
  5. There should be a time limit for attending to each action viz- initialization; food & water supply; rescue operation; recovery of essential commodities, currency and treasures; medical assistance and escorting people to the nearest location or facilities to their destinations etc.  
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