In India, the Himalayan valleys are increasingly in danger

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Long before the deadly flash flood that devastated a valley of the Himalayas in India in early February, Kundan Singh Rana knew full well that all the work carried out in this fragile region would end in disaster.

“Rivers, mountains and trees are like our gods, and each sacrilege has consequences,” the 43-year-old farmer calmly explains to AFP.

“The Rishi Ganga River and our mountains have been injured with no possible cure by the greed of men. This flood is the answer of the gods ”, continues this inhabitant of a village located just above the hydroelectric power station ravaged by the flood.

In India, the Himalayan valleys are increasingly in danger

On February 7, a wall of water violently fell on the Rishiganga Valley, in the state of Uttarakhand, destroying everything in its path and leaving, according to the latest report, 50 dead and 150 missing.

The phenomenon was first attributed to the rupture of a Himalayan glacier but other hypotheses are being considered, including the formation of a glacial lake, due to the melting of a glacier, the shores of which have given way.

And if scientists do not necessarily believe in divine intervention, they agree that it is human activity in this fragile region that is responsible for this disaster.

First of all, the melting of the Himalayan glaciers, due to global warming. The most likely cause of the disaster would be the rupture of a piece of glacier more than 1.5 km in length and about 300 m in width, which, while breaking, also washed away part of the rocks to which it was attached.

In India, the Himalayan valleys are increasingly in danger

All of this went to form a dam on a river in the mountains, until the accumulated water pressure eventually broke through the dam and dumped a huge mass of water, rocks and mud into the valley, washing away houses, roads and bridges and more than 200 people.

Climate change and development

This disaster “is clearly a consequence of climate change, and a warning of what awaits us in the future,” HC Nainwal, one of the glacier specialists who came to the site, told AFP.

In the Indian part of the Himalayas, around 10,000 glaciers are gradually melting, retreating 30 to 60 m per decade. This melting sometimes forms lakes which eventually wash away their shores and flow into the valleys in a brutal and destructive manner.

But the melting ice is not the only one to weaken the region. The other cause can be heard regularly in all the valleys of Uttarakhand: they are the explosions with dynamite used for major works in the region.

In India, the Himalayan valleys are increasingly in danger

First there are the roads: those leading to the Chinese border, widened so that the Indian army can get there more easily, since the clashes last year, but also an 800 km highway connecting four important sites. religious, a project dear to the Hindu nationalist prime minister Narendra Modi.

But the biggest problem is the construction of hydropower plants on many of the Himalayan rivers, as part of India’s effort to use renewable energy in accordance with its commitments in the Paris Agreement.

Some 75 of them, of all sizes, are already operational in Uttarakhand, and dozens more are in the pipeline.

“We will fight”

Experts believe that these rapid constructions do not take into account the potential risks.

These dangers were sadly illustrated in 2013 when a flash flood devastated a region of Uttarakhand and killed 6,000 people.

Indian justice then appointed a scientific committee to examine the causes of the disaster. The committee concluded that the region could not safely accommodate more hydroelectric plants and recommended that all construction cease. An opinion which has been totally ignored by successive governments.

In India, the Himalayan valleys are increasingly in danger

Locals say they only see the downsides of all this development, which is not benefiting them at all.

In 2019, they launched legal proceedings against illegal sand quarries that dump their waste into the Rishi Ganga, increasing the risk of landslides and flooding.

But their action has not changed anything: deforestation and dumping of waste continue without any intervention from the authorities.

“For a long time, we trusted the government and thought it was trying to improve life in the region, but we came to realize that this is not the case,” fellow resident Surinder Singh told AFP. , 55 years.

But now, he adds, “we will fight with all our strength against any proposed road or roadblock that threatens our lives and our mountains.”