In the north of India, encompassing four ranges of the Himalayas, lies Himachal Pradesh, a state guilty of stunning natural beauty, ranging from vast tracts of a high-altitude Himalayan desert to dense deodar forests, from apple orchards to cultivated terraces, and from snow-capped Himalayan ranges to glacial lakes and gushing rivers. It’s a truly wonderful getaway that attracts millions of national and international tourists every year.
But Himachal, oft dubbed the Land of Gods, is now trapped in a continuous cycle of flash floods, cloudbursts and landslides. Clips of entire mountainsides and bridges collapsing routinely do rounds of social media and TV news alerts. And the horror is real: since June 13 this year, 218 people have already lost their lives due to natural disasters and accidents in Himachal Pradesh, with a monetary loss of ₹451 crore, Jal Shakti minister Mahender Singh Thakur recently informed the legislative assembly.
Early last month, a major landslide at Nigulsari in Kinnaur buried several vehicles, resulting in the death of 28 people, which increased the death toll so far to 246.
Flash floods, landslides and cloud bursts wreaked havoc in Lahaul and Spiti, Kinnaur, Chamba and Kullu, and damaged property in Kangra, Shimla and Solan districts of Himachal Pradesh this year. Over 460 roads are blocked and a cloudburst in Lahaul— which is called a snow desert and is almost rainless—has been experienced for the first time, locals say.
Sudarshan Jaspa, chairperson of Lahaul-Spiti Ekta Manch, comments, “I have never seen a cloud burst in Lahaul my entire lifetime. In the districts like Dharamshala and Kullu, which receive heavy rainfall, it used to happen, but in Lahaul, it is an unprecedented occurrence.”
CLIMATE CHANGE AND CLOUDBURSTS
The Himachal Pradesh State Disaster Management Plan on Climate Change has identified that the average mean surface temperature of the state has risen by about 1.6°C in the last century. This worsens hydrometeorological hazards, increasing manifold the frequency and intensity of extreme climatic events such as riverine and flash floods, droughts, avalanches, cloudbursts, landslides and forest fires. Rising temperatures have also been reported to affect the quality of the apple yield in the state, which is heavily dependent on its ₹3,500-crore fruit economy.
Kulbhushan Upmanyu, an environmentalist associated with Himalaya Bachao Samiti in Himachal Pradesh, says, “Earlier, pleasant rain used to continue for a week, but now, the number of rainy days has decreased and the intensity of rain has gone up. Glaciers also melt at a rapid pace now. Water from glaciers joins with heavy rain, which is causing flash floods in the area.”
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