Monday, August 19, 2013

Flooding in Uttarakhand shows why India needs to take environmental security more seriously

Dhanasree Jarayam in New Security Beat: The disastrous flooding in the Himalayan state of Uttarakhand this summer, which claimed more than 6,000 lives, was the outcome of a changing climate and poorly planned development. It was also another case in point of the increasing importance of environmental security in India – especially for the military.

India’s armed forces emerged as heroes from the tragedy. At a time when the civil administration failed to implement some of the most basic disaster management policies, the military came to the rescue by carrying out the largest aerial search and rescue operation in the country’s history. Air Force pilots flew more than 1,400 sorties, rescuing more than 12,000 people in total, a spokeswoman told The New York Times.

With a spurt in the number of extreme weather events and natural disasters in the sub-continent, coupled with the incompetence of civil administrations, there is perhaps a need for defining a clearer role for the military, in disaster management in particular and environmental security policy and planning in general.

The unpredictability of India’s summer monsoon rains, like those that struck Uttarakhand, is not a new phenomenon; however, with rising temperatures and continued development, the consequences of that unpredictability has become a major concern.

This summer’s disaster, called the “Himalayan Tsunami” by some, was initially thought to be a glacial lake outburst flood. Later reports suggested the huge amount of water that surged downstream was caused by a breach in the boundary of a small lake that formed due to a huge landslide and heavy rainfall upstream. The monsoon rains that created the landslide and back-flooding reached Uttarakhand almost two weeks earlier than normal, when the rivers had heavier flows due to seasonal glacial melting....

From 2012 flash flooding in Uttarakhand, shot by European Commission DG ECHO, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license

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