Joshimath: A flooded Himalayan gateway in the Indian state of Uttarakhand



CNN

For years, residents of the northern Indian city of Joshimath have complained to local officials that their homes are flooding. Now, authorities are being forced to take action, evacuating nearly 100 families in the past week and expediting the arrival of experts to determine the cause.

The cracks running through the city are now so wide that hundreds of homes are no longer inhabitable, and some fear India is losing a major gateway to religious pilgrimages and tourist missions on the nearby mountain trails.

Located in the northeastern state of Uttarakhand, Joshimath is bordered by two rivers and nestled on the slopes of the Himalayas, which environmental experts say makes it particularly vulnerable to earthquakes, landslides and erosion.

“Joshimath and many other cities in the Himalayas are geologically vulnerable to subsidence,” also known as sinking or settling of the Earth’s surface, said Sameer Kwatra, policy director for the Natural Resources Defense Council’s India programme.

Quattra added that the natural factors that put his geishamate, home to about 25,000 people, At risk of flooding “is exacerbated by large-scale construction projects as well as climate-induced flooding and heavy rains.”

In August 2022, a team of scientists, geologists and researchers organized by the Uttarakhand State Government conducted a geological survey of Joshimath and noted that the locals reported an accelerated pace of land erosion that year, due to heavy rains in October 2021. and devastating floods earlier that year, which led to He raised concerns about the impact of climate change on the region.

The survey revealed extensive damage to homes in Joshimath, stating that some homes were “unsafe for human habitation” and posed a “grave danger” to their residents.

The report cited visible cracks in walls and floors and along various roads as evidence that the city was sinking and recommended that construction be curtailed in certain areas, with “further development activities in the area … restricted as far as possible”.

Despite the recommendation, construction in the area only continued until last week. On January 5, the district administration temporarily closed all construction work in Joshimath, including work on the bypass road and the Tapovan Vishnugad hydroelectric project of the National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC). The hydroelectric power station is being constructed on the Daliganga River which partially borders the eastern side of Joshimath. Construction work on the project includes tunneling, which some residents and environmental experts believe has exacerbated land erosion.

According to local news outlets, NTPC issued a statement on January 5, the day construction was halted, saying “NTPC wants to be informed with full responsibility that the tunnel has nothing to do with the landslide occurring in the city of Joshimath.”

CNN has reached out to NTPC for comment.

Suraj Kaparwan, a 38-year-old businessman who runs a small hotel in Joshimath, told CNN that cracks started appearing in his field and in the walls of his house a year ago, but the situation has worsened in recent months.

The cracks in the field started showing up about a year ago. It has been widening over time, especially in the past couple of months. Capron told CNN that they are about 3 feet wide.

Suraj Kaparuwan points out a crack in his house, which is marked with an X because it is considered too dangerous for the occupation.

Last Wednesday evening, Kaparwan’s wife and her two sons left Joshimath for Srinagar Garhwal, another city in the south in the same state.

Kaparuwan initially stayed behind to join what he said were thousands of Joshimath residents and allies from nearby villages protesting in front of local administrative buildings, demanding an end to construction and demanding adequate compensation for those who had to leave their homes.

The cracks rendered hundreds of buildings uninhabitable.

On Monday, local officials told Caprowan that his home was in a “danger zone” and that he had to move out. With upcoming hotel bookings cancelled, Kaparuwan told CNN he plans to move all of his household belongings to the hotel and wait to see what the future holds for Joshimath.

“We hope for a new beginning for everything, but it will depend on the government and the steps it will take,” he said.

As of Thursday, cracks were present in 760 buildings and 589 people had been evacuated, according to a bulletin Issued by the district administration.

Chief Minister of Uttarakhand Pushkar Singh Dami visited the affected areas last Saturday, Searching the homes of citizens who fear collapse.

“One of our priorities is to keep everyone safe,” Dhami told reporters after touring the area.

Over the weekend, Dhami visited Joshimath and assured all possible assistance to the affected families.

Subsidence of Joshimath land is “not a new problem,” Ranjit Sinha, Uttarakhand state disaster management secretary, told CNN last week, at a press conference a few days later: “The soil is very soft. The land cannot bear the burden.”

A two-year study by the Indian Institute of Remote Sensing, conducted between July 2020 and March 2022, found that Joshimath and surrounding areas were sinking at a rate of 6.5 centimeters (2.5 inches) per year.

However, local officials say the current cracks are more widespread and wider than those they have seen in the past.

The cracks that appeared a year ago “were widening very slowly and gradually,” says Himanshu Khurana, magistrate of Chamoli district, which includes Joshimath, but “what happened in the last month, especially from around December 15, was a different phenomenon in different locations.”

When asked, Khurana couldn’t say what caused the sudden proliferation of cracks in December, but said he hoped experts would discover a solution and come up with it “very quickly.”

Experts from the National Disaster Management Authority, National Institute of Disaster Management, Geological Survey of India, Indian Institute of Technology Rourkee, Wadia Institute of Himalayan Geology, National Institute of Hydrology and Central Building Research Institute have been commissioned to study the situation at Joshimath.

As of Friday, some of these teams have already arrived in the city to start work, according to Khorana.

Their findings could help not only Joshimath and neighboring cities in the Himalayan region but also other cities with similar topography that may put them at risk of flooding in the future.

Quatra, of the Natural Resources Defense Council, said Joshimath’s problems are not unique and are likely to become more common if the world fails to slow the rise in global temperatures.

“What is happening in Joshimath is yet another reminder that climate change is already causing severe impacts that will continue to worsen unless we act urgently, boldly and decisively to reduce emissions,” he He said.

Kaparuan, whose family has lived in Joshimath for decades, said his dreams for the future were “shattered”.

He said, “I don’t know what will happen next.” “It’s a very dark situation for me right now.”

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