PHUTKAL RIVER BLOCKADE: Centre silent as expert warns of ‘catastrophic flashfloods’

Srinagar, Jan 20: With the Government of India maintaining silence of over the imminent eco-disaster in Kargil due to the blockage of Phutkal river, environmentalists have warned that delay in add...

Srinagar, Jan 20: With the Government of India maintaining silence of over the imminent eco-disaster in Kargil due to the blockage of Phutkal river, environmentalists have warned that delay in addressing the issue can cause "catastrophic flashfloods" in downstream areas of the Zanskar Valley.
Member Parliament from Ladakh, Thupstan Chhewang, had Saturday alerted the Union Minister of Home Affairs, Rajnath Singh, on blockage of Phutkal river, seeking his intervention. The river has got completely blocked with huge amount of water accumulated at a stretch of about five kms towards Chumik Gyatsa.
"The accumulated water can burst anytime and cause destruction of life and property in Zanskar and its low-lying areas.  There has been no response from the Ministry of Home Affairs so far," Chhewang told Greater Kashmir this afternoon.
While water continues to accumulate in the 'artificial lake' created due to the blockade, a noted environmentalist warned of imminent flashfloods in lower areas of Zanskar river.
"Damming of water-course can result in destructive flashfloods in downstream habitations of the river," said Prof. Shakil A Romshoo, Head of the Earth Sciences department at Kashmir University.
In 2010, the flashfloods triggered by a cloudburst in Leh caused massive damage to life and property.
In 2014, Jammu and Kashmir also witnessed large-scale destruction due to floods triggered by incessant rains.
Romshoo said evidences of landslide-triggered damming of rivers exist at several places in the Himalayan and Karakorum mountains.
"The phenomenon is not something new; however there in all likelihood the dam failure can occur soon after the melting of the frozen river. There can be increase in the discharge from snow and ice-melt sometime in spring season. However, there is also possibility that it can increase in size and burst abruptly even in summer with more catastrophic consequences downstream," he told Greater Kashmir.
Romshoo said there is a need for continuous monitoring of the dammed river using satellites so that it may not fail abruptly and catch the people and the administration unaware.
"If required, the government should go for deliberate breach of the dammed river at this stage itself. This time the volume of the dammed lake is very small with least probability of the damage downstream," he said.
He said melting of glaciers in the last five to six decades has resulted in emergence of a number of dammed glacial lakes in the mountainous glaciated terrain of the state.
"Several glacial lakes have developed in the last three decades in the Chenab, Zanskar and Leh regions and are growing in size. A sudden and disastrous large river flow charged with debris and caused by an outburst of a dammed lake due to the failure of the damming moraines can bring about catastrophic damages to the life and property downstream in these regions," he said.
He said it is important to assess the breaching risk of glacial lakes in the state and the likely damage it can cause to the human habitations and Hydropower and other engineering river structures downstream so that the feasible mitigation measures for these hazards are taken urgently.
As a precautionary measure, the state government has closed the world famous Chadar trek route for tourists and trekkers due to blockade of the river.
Officials said the state government is "closely watching" the situation for timely taking necessary remedial measures.
Meanwhile, a delegation from Kargil comprising Asgar Ali Karbalai, Chief Executive Councillor, Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council (LAHDC), Kargil, Haji Nissar Ali, former Minister, and Ghulam Raza, former MLA apprised the Governor NN Vohra about the issue.
During their meeting with the Governor, they informed him that as a precautionary measure the movement of locals as well as tourists on the Chadar Trek has been stopped.
The Governor informed Chairman LAHDC that this matter was being closely watched and the Army was "also in the picture", for timely taking necessary remedial measures.

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