Uttarakhand glacier burst disaster has sent the earth science experts and locals of Chenab Valley in a tizzy as they fear that frequent earthquakes and cloud bursts in the region can breach one of the three dams on Chenab which will turn into major catastrophe not only for Chenab Valley but it can extend to Reasi, Jammu and Pakistan as well.
Increased frequency of cloudbursts and earthquakes has made Chenab Valley prone to severe disaster especially during monsoon season as these could lead to breaches in not only the 16 glacial lakes of Chenab basin but also in any of the huge dams on Chenab including Dul Hasti in Kishtwar, Baglihar in Ramban or Salaal in Reasi. A breach could result in gushing of lake or dam waters down the mountain slopes together with debris, boulders and uprooted trees with a great velocity and damage any structure and numerous habitats that come in the way. There could be a significant loss of life, property and natural habitat in such a scenario.
In the past, cloudbursts in different parts of Chenab Valley have caused widespread destruction, leading to human loss and property besides panic among people residing in the proximity. Earlier, cloudbursts have caused destruction in Thathri, Desa, Bhalessa and Bhadarwah in Doda district beside Padder Chatro and Keshwan in Kishtwar district during monsoon season.
The hill region has been wrecked by cloudbursts in the past, and if any of the three dams on river Chenab or glacial lake breach were to happen, then the adverse impact could be easily estimated. Of 27 Glacial Lakes present in Jammu and Kashmir, 16 have been identified in Chenab Basin.
Senior geologist and seismic expert of international repute at Jammu University, Department of Geology, Prof. G M Bhat said threat of breach due to earthquakes or cloudburst in glacial lake area cannot be ruled out. “In the last one decade, frequency of local earthquakes in Chenab Valley and cloudbursts have increased and if it happens in the vicinity of lakes or dam sites, then the collective volume of water would wipe out the habitation downstream,” he said.
Prof Bhat said that Chenab Valley falls in seismic zone 4 which is highly vulnerable to major earthquakes and it happens frequently, there is a possibility that it can breach the dam. “Only solution to avoid major catastrophe is that instead of erecting huge dams, the government should build small hydroelectric projects with small reservoirs, the water of which can be easily controlled,” Bhat added.
“Past has shown that cloudbursts are not taking place in forested areas, but where there is human habitation. According to him Greater and Lesser Himalayas have become prone to cloudbursts and tourist towns like Bhadarwah and Doda too are prone to it. “Kailash and Pir Panjal (ranges) are part of Greater Himalayas and the threat of cloudburst is more there,” he added. Increased human interference has impacted ecology, he explained, saying the tendency of water to travel downstream in valleys would cause widespread destruction near river bed habitats as a majority of the population resides there. After the Uttarakhand disaster, it is a warning that instead of valleys and near river beds, people should reside in the slopes for safety reasons, he said.
The Department of Mountain Environment, Bhadarwah Campus, has also shown serious concern over the increasing frequency of cloud bursts in the region and unplanned constructions near rivers and streams.
“Although there are no major glaciers near habitations in District Doda except that of Thanhala Panchayat which is located in the immediate foothills of Ashapati glacier, but threat of cloud bursts is always there and there is a strong possibility that it can cause major damage in Bhadarwah, Doda and Thathri towns beside in Padder area of Kishtwar,” said Dr Neeraj Sharma, HoD, Institute of Mountain Environment, Bhadarwah Campus.