Give the Himalayas the time and space to heal
Only projects critical for national security and development must be allowed to go ahead, and the mountains given the time and space to heal
A study by the National Remote Sensing Centre (NRSC), based on data generated by (Indian Space Research Organisation) Isro satellite maps, has found that two districts in Uttarakhand – Rudraprayag and Tehri Garhwal – have the highest landslide density in the country. The study found that among the 10 most landslide-prone districts, four are in flood-risk areas of Kerala, two in Jammu and Kashmir and two in Sikkim. The Himalayas and the Western Ghats – two regions that have seen untrammelled development projects damage fragile local ecosystems – were deemed to be at the highest risk. The study underlines, once again, the importance of policy makers to pay attention to gradually worsening environmental degradation in key regions while assessing the viability of new infrastructure projects. As scientists involved in the research noted, landslide risk had intensified due to environmental degradation and extreme weather events such as torrential rainfall. In Rudraprayag and Tehri, for example, use of dynamite for blowing up rocks was seen as creating fissures in the mountains, which were already rendered unstable because of the load of old landslide material.
In a region where hundreds of thousands of people live, and tens of thousands more make their way through major pilgrimage routes and tourist spots, such vulnerability mapping should spur a concerted effort at building disaster resilience. A punishing cycle of climate crisis-induced shock events has squeezed the time available for authorities to get ready, and shown why efforts have to proceed on war footing. Crucially, this has to give way to more comprehensive understanding of local ecologies while planning infrastructure or commercial projects and plugging loopholes that allow planners to bypass mandatory environmental checks. Only projects critical for national security and development must be allowed to go ahead, and the mountains given the time and space to heal.