Zanskar Flash Flood: Calculations and Miscalculations

NDMA proved to be a failure in averting the disaster

Zainab Akhter
Srinagar, Publish Date: May 14 2015 10:31PM | Updated Date: May 15 2015 12:39AM
Zanskar Flash Flood: Calculations and MiscalculationsFile Photo

Disaster struck the valley of Zanskar when a 15 km long artificial lake was formed due to land slide in Pukhtal region and caused blockage of the Zanskar River in January this year. Due to the extreme winter weather conditions the lake got frozen but the danger still loomed large for the people of Zanskar.

The case was referred to the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) which reflects the urgency and vulnerability of the situation.  A team of experts were formed to look into the matter by the NDMA and after a series of aerial surveys  it announced that the team had dug a channel worth 100 meter long and 5 meter deep in order to breach the water in a controlled manner in the future, thus averting a major disaster. Labelling it as a successful mission, NDMA ensured the local administration and people of Zanskar that the lake will not burst out all of a sudden and the channel it claimed to have made will ensure the flow of water in a controlled way from the artificial lake.

But it brought no respite to the people of the valley who lived in fear since the lake was frozen and could erupt at any point of time. This nightmare turned into reality when the disaster finally caught them by surprise on the morning of May 7, 2015. People of Padum were at the recieving end of the disaster which struck in the form of flash flood destroying everything in its way. A local resident of Padum who witnessed the disaster said, “The local Padum bridge, which is one of the oldest connecting it to Shela-village and most importantly to the Higher secondary school on the other side in Marthang, was washed away. The river was flowing above the bridge and the sheer intensity with which it was flowing was something we witnessed for the first time in the valley”.

This proved the tall claims of the NDMA totally wrong which otherwise was taking credit for the successful operation for averting the disaster. Another local who has been carefully observing the issue since long, when asked about role of NDMA in the whole process, raised his voice and said, “They did few aerial surveys as we could hear helicopter sorties zooming to and fro to Phuktal but they could not do much as the water was already frozen due to the extreme minus conditions. The flash flood was caused due to the change in weather and melting of the ice, which has nothing to do with NDMA or the work it did to prevent it.” So, if there are no casualties due to the flood, it is not because of NDMA or the government but due to the alertness and wit of the people who calculated the time of the flood due to weather change  and shifted to safer places in the region. 

The blockage of the Zanskar River hit the headlines in January and the famous Zanskar river trek, locally known as chadar-trek, was cancelled due to the potential threat posed by the artificial lake formed. But since then nothing substantial was done to avert the disaster which finally did strike. It washed away many bridges connecting villages to the main town of Padum. People in these villages now after spending a harsh winter are cut off from the mainland and if the links to these places are not restored on priority basis, they may soon run out of ration (for the long winters they store ration, which they restore in the summers, starting May). Also, after the long summer vacations, students from these villages studying in Padum have no other way to re-join the schools which they otherwise do by walking miles and miles and then crossing the bridges.

It is time for the people of zanskar to raise voice against the callousness of NDMA and demand answers from the local leaders. There should be an inquiry into the whole episode and victims of the flood should be given compensation on urgent basis so that they can make a living of what is left of the flood. Also, it is really a matter of grave concern that politicians of Ladakh region have not raised their voice regarding this issue overtly, especially those claiming to represent Zanskar valley; which equally make them a partner in crime with the NDMA . But they frequent the place when it is election time with a list of promises just to secure their seat and votebank. 

Recently there have been many demands by a concerned group of students from Zanskar for the need of a local leader to represent Zanskar in the assembly. Although this demand for the timebeing is making rounds on the social networking sites but may be it is ‘an idea whose time has come’. For it demands a voice in unison – undo-communal politics, stand up as one entity, and raise voice against injustice and step-motherly treatment to its people in times of disaster and otherwise. It is time for a deep and real retrospection.

(Zainab Akhter is a  Resident of Padum. Feedback at zainab9059@gmail.com)

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