From the sinking of Joshimath in Uttarakhand to floods and landslides in Himachal Pradesh, a glacial lake outburst in Sikkim, frequent earthquakes, and the recent tunnel collapse near Barkot in Uttarakhand, the Himalayan region has seen an onslaught of disasters in 2023. While these events appear unrelated, they form a linked narrative that reveals the consequences of haphazard development in the region, particularly in Uttarakhand. The current Himalayan development model, which stretches from Ladakh to Arunachal Pradesh, poses a significant threat to the mountain ecosystem.
The Himalayan ecosystem is one of the world’s most fragile, sensitive to even minor changes in its identity. The modifications, better described as an “invasion” by development forces, are frequently devised in urban boardrooms and do not consider how anthropogenic activities, combined with climate change, make the already vulnerable ecology more vulnerable and prone to disasters.
Dismissing a Himalayan disaster, such as a cloudburst or flash flood, as a natural occurrence ignores that the increased frequency and intensity of these climate events result from the overall development paradigm chosen for the planet, specifically for the Himalayan region. Most of the Himalayas’ geology is unstable and dynamic, and the mindless greed and aggression of planners, policymakers, and government agencies are costing us the Himalayas.
The Lesser Himalayan Range is made up of living mountains that have a more recent geological origin. This makes them naturally prone to landslides, and the loss of trees on this scale exacerbates an already difficult challenge. It is important to note that the number of trees damaged due to this project is at least twice the sanctioned amount when trees are uprooted by fresh landslides caused by construction activity and slope cutting. No saplings can replace the magnificent forests of deodar, chir pine, khair, bel, and other trees that stretch for 900 kilometers.
The recent tunnel collapse near Barkot is not an isolated occurrence but rather a symptom of a more significant issue: unplanned development in the Himalayas. Human activity, or more specifically, the government’s plan to “develop” the Himalayan region through rail and road networks, large-scale hydroelectric power plants, and other infrastructure, has increased the frequency and severity of disasters in a climate-vulnerable landscape. As a mountain state, Uttarakhand is at the epicenter of this unfolding ecological disaster.
Every state government wants development at a fast-paced level, but they have to take care of the environment and growth. The Himalayas are among the most critical geographical aspects for ecological balance in the Indian sub-continent. The developments need proper research and approval from environmental experts. Preserving the Himalayas is not only the government’s responsibility government’s responsibility but also the duty of all of us who live there and visit as tourists.
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