Flash-flood prone Kullu's Parvati valley in Himachal Pradesh awaits alert warning system

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Flash-flood prone Kullu's Parvati valley in Himachal Pradesh awaits alert warning system

Monday, 30 September 2019 | Archana Jyoti | Kullu

The writing is on the wall:  Kullu's Parvati Valley, a tourist destination in Himchal Pradesh, has been identified as a major risk hotspot for monsoon flood, landslides, cloudburst mishaps and potential glacial lake outburst floods (GLOFs) in the Indian Himalayan Region (IHR).

But the Centre continues to look the other way as a Rs 20 crore proposal for  early warning system with last mile connectivity to community is gathering dust with Union Environment Ministry since 2015. The installation of the EWS as a preparedness measure is one of the main recommendations of the IHCAP (Indian Himalayas Climate Adoptation Programme) of the Swiss Development Agency for Development and Cooperation. The EWS has to implemented in cooperation with the Central Government's Department of Science and Technology (DST) while the Union Environment Ministry has to fund the project.

The recommendation followed a study conducted in the wake of the big cloud burst tragedy that struck in 1994 in the region where Parvati river, a tributary of Beas river flows. Atleast 27 died while several were left injured. 

The EWS aims at warning the population in in Parvati Valley and adjoining areas inhabited by around 1,600 villagers and frequented by tourists regularly.

DC Thakur, a senior official from Department of Environment and Science & Technology, HP said: "The proposal is pending with the Union Environment Ministry since2015." He asserted that Parvati Valley in the IHR is at high risk of floods due to developmental pressures, changes in land holding pattern in terms of urbanisation and tourism besides  impacts of climate change and extreme events.

Considering the geographical position of the locality we cannot avoid disasters but intervention measures need to be taken to ensure minimum loss to life and property, he said.

The locals too voiced their concern demanding timely intervention measures. "Even though  cloud bursts with such severity have not occured in the last 25 years, there is no guarantee that it would not happen in the future," apprehended inhabitants of Shaat and Ladari villages of the Valley. In fact, they said matter-of-factly that the 1994 cloudbursts provided a demonstration of what could be expected in the future and the need for preparedness to deal with such a situation.

The memory of the devastation refuses to go away.  Kamal Chand, ex-sarpanch of Ladari village recalled, "It was all over in a few minutes. The water level in the river rose 40 to 50 feet high on that fateful day." 

Many lives would have been saved had the people been alerted about the disaster that day, he told a group of journalists during a field visit to the valley as part of a media workshop organised by the Centre for Media Studies (CMS), an advocacy group under the IHCAP recently.

Shaat village resident, Mohinder Singh and Hemraj, both survivors, minced no words as they said that the Government had not done much to improve resilience of the locals against future hydrological-disasters, if any. 

According to the IHCAP assessment, the GLOF will increase across all blocks of Kullu, with Parvati Valley emerging as the most vulnerable one. According to it, atleast 66 floods have taken place since 1965.The flood assessment for Kullu district indicates variation in hazard levels for different catchment areas.

"The occurance of floods is not expected to decrease and its consequences could become even worse in view of the ongoing climate changes and increasing demographic pressure," as per the study.

It has stressed on capacity building and specialised training of communities on appropriate response mechanism, including  identification of shelters and evacuation path.

Annu Anand, Director (Advocacy) from the CMS pointed out that it is important that issues of climate change whose impacts are being felt across the Indian Himalayas affecting the livelihood, water availability and biodiversity in the region, are highlighted.  "Hence, sensitization and training to media is necessary to take the right messages about climate change to people as well as policy makers and motivate them to take action at all the requisite levels," she added.

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