No early warning system yet for Kullu’s Parvati valley even 25 yrs after big cloud burst tragedy

The place in Shaat village of Parvati valley where water rose to 30 to 40 feet during the August 11, 1994 cloud burst .

By Naz Asghar

Sep 25, 2019

Kullu (Himachal Pradesh): Even Twenty five years after the cloud burst disaster that struck Parvati valley in this district of Himachal Pradesh, the people of the area are yet to get an early warning system(EWS).

The devastation caused by August 11, 1994 flash floods is still fresh in the minds of the survivors of the tragedy in Shaat and Ladari villages of the valley.

”It was all over in five minutes. Rather it is just  matter of a minute in such events.The water level in the river rose to 40 to 50 feet high that fateful day, ” says former sarpanch of ladari village Kamal Chand while recalling the terrifying flash flood resulting from a cloudburst high up in the mountains that reduced the whole villages to rubble, claiming 27 lives.

Many lives would have been saved if the people would have been alerted about the coming disaster that day.

Establishment of an EWS with last mile linkage to community is one of the main recommendation of the IHCAP(Indian Himalyas Climate Adoptation Programme) of the Swiss Development Agency for Development and Cooperation being implemented in cooperation with the Department of Sceince and Technology of the Indian Government.

”The proposal for Rs 20 crore project to set up the system has been sent to the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change way back in 2015, but it is yet to get its approval,” Himachal Pradesh Government’s climate cell officer DS Thakur told a group of journalists during a field visit to the valley as part of a media workshop organised by the Centre for Media Studies under the IHCAP this week.

Mohinder Singh of Shaat village, who was 16 years old in 1994 when the flashfloods hit his village, had a feeling that not much was done by the government after the tragedy that could match the enormity of the risk people of the area were exposed to.” That day, the stormy gales of winds with high whistle-like sound that preceded the flashfloods were so powerful that trees and houses were blown away even before water could pound them. Words fail me to describe the horror,” he says recalling the nature’s fury which claimed the life of his two uncles and one sister.

”Though the compensation was given for the dead but no compensation was given for our land that degraded due to the flash floods,” he said. Another survivor of the disaster Hemraj was also on the spot, but he was nine months old then. His parents perished in the falshfloods and he was brought up by his grandfather.

Three of the survivors of 1994 cloud burst in Parvati valley: (From left)  Mohinder Singh, Hemraj and Kamal Chand.

As per IHCAP recommendation, the most urgent adaptation action that needs to be taken is to prepare the government agencies to alert and rescue people. This programme, in the context of Kullu, could be linked to Himachal Pradesh Disaster Management Authority. It also lays stress on capacity buliding and specialised training of communities on appropriate response mechanism, including the identification of shelters and evacuation path. Kullu being a hot spot for climate chang impacts such as flood, a flood risk assessment of Parvati valley has been done in collaboration with IHCAP and proposals submitted to the Ministry of Environment and Forests.

The Adaptation proposals also relate to climate-resilient agri-horticulture and eco-based adoptation(Great Himalyan National Park).According to IHCAP assessment, the glacial lake outburst floods(GLOF) will increase across all blocks of Kullu, with Parvati valley emerging as the hot spot. Banjar was identified as a hot spot of agricultural vulnerability, based on both quantitative assessment and farmers’ perceptions.

The journalists were also taken to Banjar valley, where farmers after facing damage of their apple crop for several successive years due to rising temperatures because of climate change, had to switch to cultivation of other fruits. Farmer Padam Singh said he had to shift cultivation of pomegranates in place of apples due to the changes in the climate .’

‘Thirty years ago when the apple crop did not yield good results, we shifted to plum, but as temperature rose further, we have now taken to pomegranate cultivation. For apple, you have to to a height of 5000 feet, while earlier apple could be grown at 3500 feet.” he said.

Climate cell officer Thakur said research was now directed towards developing such varieties that did not require that much height, and aim was to develop such varities as reqired less space but yield more produce.

Also efficient use of water in irrigation was a big priority owning to depletion of water resources as a result of climate change.

Eighty year old woman resident of the village Godavri told journalists that rain and snow had both decreased in the valley during her life time. Supporting her observation, village sarpanch Naina Devi said the impact on the flow of river was quite visible.” Nadian to sookh hi gai hain( Rivers have almost dired up), she said.

Farmers in Banjar tehsil and other parts of Himachal Pradesh have also taken to vegetable production in poly houses as climatic uncertainties threaten their livelihood. By regulating temperature and other climatic conditions, polyhouses give them assured crops and in three cycles in a year. The Himachal Pradesh Government is promoting these poly houes which like a greenhouse, lets the light in but trap heat.Motilal Negi told the visiting journalists that besides simulating appropriate climatic conditions, the polyhouese were also saving their crop from pests.

Motilal Negi said that besides simulating appropriate climatic conditions, the polyhouese were also saving their crop from pests.

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