Man-made disaster: Chamoli’s unnatural calamity

Sep 26, 2022

We cannot look at the climate changes indifferently, colour changes of fruits, vegetables and leaves of plants and trees. Yesterday, it was in Kerala, today it is in Uttarakhand, tomorrow it may be somewhere else. One day, the tragedy will knock at everyone’s door in the world’s most populated region – the vast foothills of the Himalaya. Let’s not say what Uttarakhand Chief Minister said: “experts will study about the matter after a disaster ”.

Human beings have a very short memory. We forget every tragedy the moment we manage to come out of it, even if temporarily. That is a weakness we have failed to recognise or an exposition of our recklessness to serious issues. Our short memory makes us selfish to take home inevitable consequences. One side of our carelessness that gathers a disaster begins there.

Does our memory-loss or ability to bear a loss show our resilience to all good or bad things regularly happening to us? Have we ever thought about what contributes to climate changes? Have we ever paid attention to the changes happening in the colour of fruits, which we ate regularly? Have we ever thought about why there have been changes in the colour of flowers and leaves grown in our orchard? Another side of the story of our carelessness goes on.

While other animals read nature’s tune closely with a sensory rendered by nature, we keep it off for our momentary convenience. And while other animals live without infringing their ecosystems, we live only by infringing nature’s law for our momentous pleasure. As we are not bothered even an iota about our misdeeds, we chose to remain as notorious environmental offenders. In the process, we accumulate the outcome of all the misdeeds and let the hell break loose on us at one point in time. For us, every disaster is only newsworthy, but never a determined action-worthy. We are oblivious to the fact that every offence draws punishment, often more severely as a backlog settlement by nature.

The results of many years of work appear sometimes overnight. The result is formed in an invisibly gradual phase. According to a study, in 40 years, 10 meters of the Himalayan glacier melted, an average of a quarter of a meter every year. During the period temperature grew two per cent, as a result of the much-talked-about global warming. The subject is now curtailed into an essay making for secondary school students. No one outside school classrooms took it seriously. Worse, the change in climate and global warming did not draw much attention until a disaster hit people living in vulnerable regions. The subject of global warming wouldn’t have come up now and also hadn’t one of the Himalayan foothills inundated by the glacier burst. The Chamoli disaster has come to us only as a reminder.

Nevertheless, the Chamoli disaster is remembered only as a “casual” disaster that routinely happens at eco-sensitive locations. Such a disaster comes and goes. People die and re-adjust with their misfortune, which we used to call resilience. People suffer it and forget it routinely. Until the rescue operation, after a disaster is over, we read the news, express condolence and talk about the offence we have committed. Media would take the rescue mission as a piece of sensational news for a couple of days. But soon, we return to a normal life or a situation where we feel a normal life without knowing the fact that we are sitting on a bigger risk. The phase of Himalayan ice-cap melting is going on more rapidly now, as we have heard what scientists have found in a three-dimensional satellite camera. The ice cap melting in the last 20 years happened more rapidly than the melting phase of the previous 20 years. The satellite images, which were used for studying, couldn’t be wrong.

The magnitude of the glacier melting disaster is much more than a mere glacier burst and consequent flood. That comes only as a warning shot. The rise in two-degree Celsius over 40 years trimmed 10 meters of the ice cap. Environmentalists have never stopped warning that we have been unheeding regularly. We used to consider their warning only as a senseless shouting that we took indifferently. Or, we used to think of such a disaster only as a regional issue. We consider Chamoli disaster only as a Uttarakhand issue. The Chamoli glacier burst in 2021 reminded us, eight years after the Kedarnath. Both the tragedies devastated thousands of people. Nonetheless, one day, such a disaster is going to knock at our door also. We do not know that our next generation is not going to live in peace with the luxury of nature’s blessing when all the perennial Himalayan rivers go dry after the ice cap is melted to inundate foothills, where a quarter of the world’s population lives.

Officials scouting the area

Immediately after the disaster Uttarakhand chief minister said, experts will study the matter. In this case, there is no need for expert input, since even a primary school child knows about global warming. Everyone knows it is not simply a natural disaster, but our own failed approach. None dares to admit the truth and live by what is desirable for protecting the Himalaya.

Interestingly, on the same day, the Union government declared some parts of Wayanad as green zones, which was protested by opponents with a hartal to withdraw the notification. The opposition, as a ritual, opposes what the government says and does today. Realities become unrealities as political climate changes. We overlook certain realities and live on misconceptions that rainfall and sunrise will keep recurring with minor variations. We are foolish enough to overlook the realities by convincing ourselves that such minor variations do not make a big difference. But the aggregate of the minor variations amounts to scary size over a period. In the last few years, we have seen the rainfall that we get fell by 19 per cent and the monsoon is delayed to reach the normal harvesting month. The size of cultivable land has fallen consistently. According to some estimates, there has been a reduction of 60 per cent in the 466 million hector paddy and wheat farming, thanks to hybrid methods which compensate for the loss of quantity and dangerously changing-climate sustainability. In all these adversities, the Himalayan grace in summer makes our granaries abundant. But we have chosen to stab at the bosom of nature.

By stabbing at the bosom of nature and vicious attack on the ecology, we are pulling down the water tower of Asia. This action brings multiple disasters, several perennial rivers like Ganges, Indus, Brahmaputra and Sutlej in India, besides Yangtze and Mekong of China go dry and the peninsular river is never filled. Many lakes and creeks also face the same danger of going to be dry. Where Himalaya’s ice-melting does not fill rivers, it helps the southern hemisphere to harvest the rainfalls caused by the towering position of the Himalayan range. It blocks the passage of cold continental air from the north back into India in winter and forces it to form the south-western monsoon winds. The Himalayas also have great sway on the climatic stability of the world’s most populous counties. The high altitude length and direction intercept the summer monsoons emerging from the Bay of Bengal and the Arabian Sea that eventually leads to the precipitation by rain or snow. Himalaya is the third “pole” on the planet that controls the climatic stability of densely populated nations on earth.

We may continue to boast about economic growth by building industries by inflicting huge damage on the environment. Mainland China did enough by building industries and levelling those which shouldn’t have levelled. In farcical growth, we may forget all the disasters soon, but nature will not. The next generation also will not. Unfortunately, we are concerned only about the present and never mind the future disaster by not learning from the past.