The flash flood in the Dhauliganga, Chamoli, caused by an avalanche from a breaking glacier has underlined, once again, the perils of life in the hills. This is the first major incident after the 2013 Uttarkashi flood, which had caused widespread devastation and thousands of deaths. Although the present disaster has not inflicted anything like similar damage, two power projects on the river have been severely affected. What is notable, however, is that the response from the disaster management agencies was swift, indicating that the necessary lessons were learned from the earlier disaster. Over the years, the infrastructure, expertise and manpower has been developed to react and respond as required. Even as the news broke, the response had been initiated, designated teams were moving into place, with the local administrations and state government coordinating smoothly. The Chief Minister had left for the site at the earliest, and support was offered by the Union Government.
By afternoon, as many as 16 workers trapped in a tunnel had been rescued and several bodies recovered, even as on-the-ground-data from the sites was being acquired to take the necessary decisions. Although there were early indications that up to 150 persons were missing, the quick response will have helped minimise the damage as much as possible.
There is cause for satisfaction that the many initiatives taken following the Uttarkashi have remained consistent. This means that the protocols that were developed were not allowed to gather dust and the agencies maintained their preparation levels. It is important that, after this event, the disaster management issues continue to be ramped up. The likelihood of even more serious disasters taking place is always there and not just related to melting glaciers and flash floods.
Some experts point out that a major earthquake takes place in the Himalayas, on the average, every eleven years. Uttarakhand is geologically fragile and would be badly hit if such an event takes place here. As such, preparations also need to be on the required scale. The recent event should be taken as a warning that the state never let its guard down and, when things are normal, all the necessary preventive measures taken. This means that development and infrastructure building be done according to the proper safety parameters. New construction in urban areas is taking place according to quake-proof regulations, but there still exist many old buildings that could prove death traps in the case of a quake. As such, efforts should be speeded up in better conforming to safety precautions across the state.