Indian Glacier Disaster

Crystal Kalin

On Monday, February 7th, a Himalayan glacier crashed into a river causing an avalanche of water and debris that wiped out water, trees, houses and even people. Rescue teams frantically searched through the night looking for any survivors as well as having to discover the many dead and missing bodies along the way.

Footage from Sunday’s disaster shows a fast-moving wall of water and rocks barreling down a narrow gorge and smashing through a dam at the smaller hydroelectric project before surging downstream, wiping out everything in its path. Indian rescue workers struggled and spent all day and night searching for any signs of life under the heavy debris. According to a CBS article, rescuers had reached all 13 villages by Monday afternoon and relief work is now underway in them.

The disaster has been blamed on rapidly melting glaciers in the Himalayan region which was mostly likely due to the issue of global warming. Indian researchers said they presumed it was simply just a glacial collapse, but came to realize that it was likely a landslide and avalanche crashing into the glacier that unleashed the cascade on the valley. Although all signs are pointing towards the drastic heat change in climate, others have noticed that there had also been a high level of construction in the particular area which means there were developments in hydroelectric dams and infrastructure projects which could connect to the incident.

Because of man-made climate change the ecologically sensitive Himalayan region is prone to flash floods and landslides. Himalayan glaciers are also vulnerable to rising global temperatures and any changes in climate overall. A 2019 study conducted by Uttarakhand’s researchers, found that Himalayan glaciers are melting twice as fast as last century, losing almost half a meter of ice each year. As the ice melts, glaciers become unstable and start to retreat causing large glacial lakes to form, breaking away and ultimately unleashing any water trapped behind it causing an outburst of floods. According to Reuters, this incident brought back memories of a similar incident in 2013, when the state was hit by what was dubbed by the area’s chief minister as a “Himalayan tsunami”, killing nearly 6,000 people. Environmentalists have long warned that rampant development in the Himalayan state is an ecological catastrophe waiting to happen. Authorities described Sunday’s landslide as a freak event.

Following the incident many survivors shared their heartfelt stories about their escapes and how they were feeling at that moment where they felt as their life could potentially end. One survivor Rajesh Kumar, age 28, spoke to AFP describing his experience saying “Suddenly there was a sound of whistling… there was shouting, people were telling us to come out. We thought it was a fire. We started running but the water gushed in. It was like a Hollywood movie.” Nobody can even begin to imagine how the people of northern India were feeling that day but it’s important to be aware about what’s happening in a world outside of your own. As of now, India stands together praying for the nation and everyone’s safety as rescue work and relief operations have been put into place to aid the northern region during this devastating time.