MAN-MADE DISASTER (June 29, 2013)

News Analysis

Dr Mohammad Manzoor Alam

Since June 16, the Uttrakhand cloudburst, deluge and landslides have occupied the national attention almost without a break. To emphasise its seriousness and magnitude (but not its physical nature), the Prime Minister has called it a “tsunami”.

The death toll has crossed 1,000, and the Chief Minister of Uttrakhand, Vijay Bahuguna has said it could cross 5,000. Rescue operations have been rendered difficult by bad weather, and thousands are still either missing or waiting to be rescued.

Human economic activity is behind every ecological damage and environmental destruction. Uttrakhand’s case is no different. Here people have sinned against nature. The Quran says disasters strike because of human misdeeds.

The misdeeds here have been numerous and interrelated, cumulative and sequential. These lush hills are still “new” in terms of geological time and there is a preponderant proportion of soft clay in them.

Years of denudation of forests has exposed areas in the hills to direct rainfall, with disasterous results. The thick forest cover breaks the force of rainfall, absorbs much of it and preserves water in its roots, leaving far less to run free and carry away the soil with it.

Once the soil below shifts and begins to slip down the hill, it brings down boulders, homes and villages, trees and animals, crashing with a roar hundreds of feet below in the valley, producing a great catastrophe.

Such fragile eco-systems cannot sustain multi-storeyed hotels and resorts and are good only for wooden structures or low houses of modern design. Once again multi-storied buildings have come crashing down hundreds of feet into the valley with great cost to life and property.

Such structures are symbols of commercial greed: hotels and other establishments meant for the growing traffic of tourists and religious pilgrims.

To cash in on growing tourism, pony trails that could carry only a single person or a pony carrying a person, have now been broadened to accommodate heavy two-way traffic of buses, cars and trucks. Carving wide terraces out of the mountain sides, these wide roads have been constructed. This has weakened these soft mountains and made them vulnerable to landslides.

Added to this, the massive vibrations of the hills caused by heavy traffic movement makes the hills even more prone to landslides. All these are human economic activity in one way or other.

The devastation is more widespread, its impact more long-lasting than it looks at present. For instance, the neighbouring rivers would be silted with huge mountain debris, leaving less space for water to flow, which will cause water to spill out and flood the plains.

Human greed and constant sinning against the natural order of things can be disastrous. We must refrain from it in our own best interests.


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