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Analysis Of The Causes And Impacts Of “Himalayan Tsunami” In Uttarakhand

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Uttarakhand is an Indian state which is situated on the southern slope of Himalayan Belt. This state, in general is prone to severe natural disasters like earthquake, floods, avalanche, landslide or forest fire. Wherever, the 2013 flash flood in Uttarakhand is the worst tragedy the state has ever seen and this is undoubtedly one of the most tragic Himalayan disasters since now. Huge loss of lives happened followed by several destructions and loss properties.

Moreover, this incident happened in the peak tourist season, in the month of June that enhanced the number of casualties and deaths. Entire state of Uttarakhand faced heavy rainfall followed by flash flood and landslides. Controversies are still there for the cause of this. Apparently, the melting of glaciers, heavy rainfall and flash flood is considered as the cause of this disaster. While almost the whole of the state experienced this disaster, the villages at the Mandakini valley and adjacent to Kedarnath temple were worst affected. Fig 1 shows the condition of Kedarnath Temple before and after the disaster. The melting of Chorabari glacier at a height of 3800 meters caused eruption of the river Mandakini and finally caused heavy flood at Kedarnath Temple along with adjacent areas of Rambara, Tilwara, Agastyamuni and Guptakashi.

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The entire Rambara, Gaurikund and other villages at Mandakini valley were fully wiped out. Other pilgrimage centers like Gangotri, Yamunotri and badrinarayan were also heavily affected. Thousands of people died, more than one lakh of people were stranded in various parts of state because of lack of communication, road blockage due to the flood and landslide.

Impact of this disaster was worst for the pilgrims as well as the local people also. Although the main disaster was the flash flood, the situation became worse due to continuous rainfall and cold. Central and state both governments took immediate responsibility and launched rescue and relief operation. This is known as one of the greatest rescue and relief operations in Indian history in which over one lakhs of people were rescued to safe places. The Indian Army, the IAF (Indian Air Force), para military forces, the administration and NDRF (National Disaster Response Force) worked collectively. With every adversity, road blockage, destruction of bridges, relives were sent to people. This disaster is named as “Himalayan Tsunami” by the media which affected over nine million people, damaged property and infrastructure. The actual number of casualty is still unknown as thousands of people are still missing.

According to state government record on May 2014, 169 people died and 4021 people are missing (buried or perished, presumed to be dead). About 4200 villages were affected, 11091 livestock were lost and 2513 houses were completely destroyed. The impact of this disaster is long enough that it nearly destroyed the economy of the state. Tourism is the center of the economy in Uttarakhand. It affected badly due to this massacre as most of the tourism places are almost destroyed. The heart of the state, the “Chaar Dham” that attracted enormous number of tourists every year, is almost wiped out. Traders, hotel and restaurant owners, bus and taxi drivers lost their livelihood. Agriculture and horticulture, which are another source of economy, is also affected due to soil erosion or sand fills in the agricultural lands. This also affected hydro-electric power project as numbers of turbines were destroyed during the flood; this led to an impact to the energy sector also. NIDM (National Institute of Disaster Management) undertook a post-disaster survey to find out the causes and impacts of this disaster. State Government took action for immediate reconstruction and rehabilitation programs with help of Central Government and World Bank.

The Disaster And Immediate Response

The search, relief and rescue operation for Uttarakhand disaster was one of the most difficult operations in Indian history. The continuous rainfall, decreasing weather condition, road blockage due to landslides made the relief operation more difficult. Although, with all adversities, all the relief and rescue teams continued their rescue operations, helping thousands of people during the disaster. Fig 3 shows the various rescue operations during the flood.

Government of India initiatives:Ministry of Home affairs, Government of India took immediate action to provide necessary support for the affected people. Several meetings were called, reviews were taken, and rescue operation was started. The central government helped the state government in rescue operation by providing the help of Indian Army, paramilitary forces and NDRF. The government also arranged a high level medical team of 80 doctors and 11 psychiatrists, along with 5 health teams.

Financial support was also initiated. An amount of 395 crores was released. Rs. 1lakh from NDRF and Rs. 2 lakhs from Prime Minister National relief fund was initiated for each victim [5]. Initiatives from Government of Uttarakhand:The Uttarakhand administration did its level best to fight this fury of nature. On June 16th, the state government requisitioned the service of IAF, Army, paramilitary forces. Various state government agencies like police force, volunteers, NGOs, Fire brigade also were summoned for rescue operation. About 150000 people were rescued and evacuated to relief camps. Essential supplies like food, blanket, oil and lamp, medicines, drinking water were continuously provided by air dropping or transportation. 69 relief camps were immediately set up for the affected people.

All the pilgrims were sent to camps along with the local people; later transportation was arranged for them to reach their home station safely. Medical team was also provided with help of the central government. Water purifiers were set up to prevent any type of contaminations, all the dead bodies and animal carcasses were burnt cleanly that, in practical, prevented any spread of diseases [5]. Other responses:The contribution of Indian Army, the IAF, Paramilitary forces are unforgettable for their part in this rescue operation. Without any of these teams, the rescue would become more difficult. With every adversity of hilly terrain, continuous rainfall, biting cold, floods, landslides, they ran the rescue and relief operation and saved number of lives. They took part in everywhere from rescuing people, sent them to relief camps and supply necessary relieves also.

Cause Of The Disaster

The disaster in Uttarakhand 2013 can be related to many a causes. Initially, it started with heavy to very heavy rainfall on 16th-17th June resulting into flash flood and landslide. The worst impact was on the Kedarnath shrine area, the Mandakini valley, the Alakananda valley, Pinder valley and the banks of river Kali in Dharchula area [1]. The causes for the disaster have been subject to several assessments. The main causes are discussed here. Meteorological causes:Although the disaster included landslides and floods also, the main reason was the heavy rainfall for at least four days. Here is the IMD report for rainfall on 15th-18th July in the districts of Uttarakhand. Table 1: Rainfall report on 15th to 18th July in Uttarakhand [1]. Districts Rainfallon 15. 06. 13(mm) Rainfallon 16. 06. 13(mm) Rainfallon 17. 06. 13(mm) Rainfallon 18. 06. 13(mm) Actualrainfall Predictedrainfall Actualrainfall Predictedrainfall Actualrainfall Predictedrainfall Actualrainfall Predictedrainfall Almorah – 10 09 15 10 50 – 35 Bageshwar – 20 16 20 – 70 – 50 Chamoli – 20 08 25 10 75 – 55 Champawat – 10 10 10 22 20 – 15 Dehradun 22 15 37 10 – 30 – 70 GarhwalTehri 12 10 17 10 – 30 – 70 Hardwar 11 05 22 05 – 20 – 40 Nainital – 10 18 10 17 15 – 25 Pithoragarh – 20 09 20 12 75 – 55 RudraPrayag 9 05 09 05 – 25 – 40 Udham Singh Nagar – 05 – 05 – 30 – 25 Uttarkashi 13 20 21 10 – 30 – 80In this week, the entire region experienced heavy to very heavy rainfall. Initially the cause was considered as a clod burst, but later studies said it was not, as no such rainfall was seen due to a cloud burst. The cumulative rain fall till 01. 06. 2013 showed 3. 15 times increase from normal rain distributed to all districts.

Cloud burst causes thunderstorm or hail storm with heavy rainfall or precipitation, naturally lasts for few minutes or couple of hours. But this rainfall lasted for almost a week causing about more than 500 mm of precipitation in some areas, while cloud burst can cause a precipitation of only100 mm per hour. The cloud burst occurs naturally in the month of June-July in Indian subcontinent when the monsoon clouds from Bay of Bengal and Arabian Sea drift towards the Himalayan region. This is mainly due to the orographic lifting of moisture laden unstable air for cloudburst in hilly terrain [1]. That is the reason that cloudbursts mainly occur in hilly areas, not in plain. But this disaster covered almost all the state, including the valleys as well as mountains also.

Geological causes: Geographical Setup: The Himalayas consists of four major lithostratigraphical units namely Siwalik, Lesser, Central Crystalline and Tethyan group. These groups are separated from each other by tectonic contacts- Main Boundary Fault (MBF), Main Central Thrust (MCT) and Thethyan Thrust which are traceable all along the Himalayan Belt. The Himalayas was lifted by the collision between the Indian tectonic plate and Eurasian plate. According to the theory of plate tectonics, their formation is a result of fold along the convergent boundary between Indo-Australian plate and Eurasian plate. 70 million years ago, north moving Indo-Australian plate was moving at about 15 cm/year. 50 million year ago, this Indo-Australian plate and Tethy plates combine and folded into mountain ranges. An often cited fact used to illustrate this process is that the summit of Mount Everest is made of marine limestone from this ancient ocean. The tectonic movements of these plates results in the rise of the Himalayas and have made it very unstable and fragile making it susceptible towards natural hazards. The movement of the Indian plate into the Asian plate, further, makes this region prone to natural hazards like earthquakes and landslides, soil erosion, forest fires, flash floods, snow avalanches etc. By the tectonic set up it appear that the Himalayan rocks have subjected to several phases of tectonic movements, resulting local faults, folds and thrusts. Due to several phases of tectonic movements, the incidence of landslides and mass wasting are higher in number than any other part of the country (Joshi, et al 1998). The good example of this are the floods occurred in the month of June 2013 in Uttarakhand (Nair, 2013).

Uttrakhand State: The Uttrakhand is a Himalayan state lying between Himachal Pradesh and Nepal; with Tibet region lying to its north. The state, in general, is prone to different disasters such as earthquakes, excessive rains and cloud bursts, landslides, floods, forest fires and hailstorms. The seismic risk in the state is high. The state consists of 13 districts out of which 4 lies in the zone 5 of the seismic risk map of India while five other districts lies in partially zone and partially zone 5 and the rest fall totally in zone 4. In the past years, the state has experienced two major earthquakes (Uttarkashi, 1991 and Chamoli, 1999). The nonoccurrence of a major earthquake (M > 8 on the Richter scale) in the region in the last more than 200 years enhanced seismic risk in the region. The flash floods resulted from the heavy torrential rainfall between 15th and 17th June 2013 has been one of the worst Himalayan tragedies in recent years.

Flash flood/Glacial lake outburst flood: Flash floods are sudden and enormous flooding of valleys and low areas which are common in Indian hilly terrain. They can be caused from heavy to very heavy rainfall followed by cloud bursts, thunder storm, and, most dangerous, huge amount of fusion of glaciers. This is a very rapid event and never lasts more than twelve hours, but with its huge impact, it causes enormous damages. Wadia Institute of Himalayan Geology, Dehradun described flash flood as a major reason of devastation on Mandakini Basin. Saraswati River and Dudh Ganga cathment area was over flooded by continuous rain and resulted excessive flow across the channel. As a result, huge volume of water containing debris struck the Kedarnath town, washed away the upper part completely. Due to heavy downpour, the entire village of Ramwara was wiped out at the evening of 16th June. Fig 5 shows the entire drainage system along with all lakes and glaciers adjacent to the Kedarnath area that caused so much of devastation in 2013 [1, 2].

Glacial lakes:Glacial lakes are the result of melting of glaciers as a result of increasing global warming. The International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development in Nepal has found out the rapid building up of glacial lakes in the region of Southern Himalayan range. Fig 6 shows how a glacial lake melts and can cause flash flood [1]. These glacial lakes can be over flooded by excessive snowfall, thunderstorm or rainfall that exactly happened with the Chorabari Lake in 2013. The lake was thickly covered with snow (>7 feet) that melted with continuous and heavy to heavy rainfall on the right lateral basin of the glacier. This immediately released millions of gallons of water that broke the damn, washed out the Kedarnath valley area at 6:45 am of 17th June, 2013.

Landslide: Landslide is defined as the movement of all varieties of masses such as rock, debris or earth down a hill slope. It can also be defined as the downward and outward movement of slope forming materials composed of rocks, soils, artificial fills or combination of these along surfaces of separation either slowly or quickly from one place to another. Landslides are primarily associated with mountain lands but it can also occur in areas where surface excavations for highways, buildings and open pit mines takes place. Typically, a landslide occurs when several of these factors converge. Some of the Natural causes are mainly (i) Gravity (ii) Geological (iii) Heavy and prolonged rainfall and (iv) Earthquakes. When earthquakes occur on areas with steep slopes, many times the soil slips causing landslides. Furthermore, debris flows caused by earthquakes can also trigger mass movement of soil. These factors are major in the area which were affected in Uttrakhand disaster 2013.

Anthropogenic causes: Anthropogenic causes mainly deal with the causes that are created by human interference and activity that causes imbalance in the natural cycle. For example, environmental pollution and pollutants, deforestation, land grazing. Illegal development on the soft bed rock etc. The Himalayas have developed over a period of time with endogenic and exogamic processes. The human interference in the form of building roads, construction etc. make them more vulnerable to disasters eg. landslides, runoffs etc. There exists a clear evidence from the satellite pictures of the river Mandakini traversing the different paths and not following the usual ones. In fact several tributaries developed that were earlier had no existence. This in turn resulted in making places and areas vulnerable to disasters that had no chance of getting affected by disasters. Melting of glacier releasing 17. 6 cusecs of water further added to the disaster. The latest trend suggests that the rate of melting of the glaciers in the Mandakini valley has been enhanced. Besides the valley has undergone several climatic transformations which added further.

Moreover, the heavy rainfall recorded on 16th and 17th June was the,major cause of the multiple landslides and flash floods in the valley. The heavy rain can be attributed to the environmental degradation caused by the huge infrastructural growth. Thus ultimately causing the submersion of the low lying areas and hence the streams and riverines widened up. The fig. represents the streams before and after the disaster and it can be observed that there is heavy downwards flow of water ultimately hitting the settlement and destroying the region of Kedarnath. The high gradient of glacier causes the litter, scrap etc. to descend with a very high velocity from the regions of Kedarnath to Gaurikund and Rambara creating tremendous effect on life, property and infrastructure nearby the downstream areas.

As per the data collected, stupendous damage was done to the roads including areas of Kedarnath, Guriaya, Lenchuri, Hhindurpani, Rambara, Gaurikund and Rudraprayag. Several factors in combination for example degraded forest cover, change of debris laden slopes into almost vertical slopes during widening of roads and illegal road construction without maintaining any safety precautions added further to the devastation. In addition, the engineering structures lacking adequate technicality in their geometrical aspects ultimately causing the slopes vulnerable to the torrential rainfall in the region contributed more. In the Urban regions, the blockage of the sewage water caused the wastes to settle into the settlements.

For the construction of the roads the slopes are removed which was one of the reasons to cause landslides in the alaknanda valley. The current survey on the transport support is inefficient in handling the increase in traffic. For instance, several hydel projects being installed require heavy machinery which is highly inefficient. Diggings down mountains to construct roads also have added to the massacre. The roads and building are being built in this area without understanding the geology of the region. The blasting often moves the rocks and makes the area vulnerable to hazard. To conclude, Since India is situated on a tectonic plate, the government needs to be more proactive for the natural disasters and its management.

Impact And Assessment

Impact: Heavy loss to lives along with private and public properties was caused by the disaster. The districts which suffered a lot were Bageshwar, Chamoli, Pithoragarh, Rudraprayag and Uttarkashi. On 9 May 2014, it was reported that the death were 169 and 4021 people were missing. When total missing people were examined, it was found that 846 people were from the state of Uttarakhand and 3,175 from the other states. A large number of missing people were from the state of Uttar Pradesh and also from Uttarakhand and Madhya Pradesh. The flash floods were one of the major reason for this disaster and apart from that heavy land sliding buried the people under rock and debris. National Highway 58 was washed away in some places and severely damaged in the other regions causing huge traffic jams. According to the report published by state government, it was found that a total of 4,200 villages were affected, 11,091 livestock were lost and 2,513 houses were fully damaged. More than 70,000 tourists and 1,00,000 local inmates were grounded in the difficult mountain territory of the upper reaches of the Himalaya. The damage was so huge and immense that it was also given a name as Himalayan Tsunami by the media.


  1. Hazard Assessment:It is the assessment of the possibility of occurrence of each type of disaster in terms of both frequency and magnitude. It also tells about the occurrence of combination of more than one disaster simultaneously. Here, hazard assessment due to floods and landslides is reported. Landslides: Depending on the geographical basis, landslides are categorized as low, moderate, high to very high. Susceptibility mapping of Uttarakhand has been carried out which showed that most part of the state is in high susceptibility zone. If susceptibility is very low and self-prevention is very high, the sensitivity or proneness of a given area would be minimal. Major vulnerabilities of the state are in some of the highlighted areas given below:
    1. Tourism: Adventure and religious tourism are the main point of attraction of the state. As per 2011 census, the population of the state was 1. 02 crores and more than 3 crores tourists visit every year. This set an excessive pressure on existing resources and infrastructure resulting in increase in traffic and pollution which not only had a severe and negative impact on the environment but also exponentially increased the sensitivity to disasters.
    2. Infrastructure Development: Roads- As per statistical data, Uttarakhand has a total road length of 49,227 km, of which only 54% is surfaced. In Road Density, the State ranks 15th at 0. 96 km/sq. km much below the national average of 1. 2 km/sq. km. The existing road network is inadequate, in terms of capacity, to serve for a population ranging from approx. 1. 02 crore increasing to over 4 crores during tourist season.
    3. Hydroelectric Projects – Several large and small hydroelectric projects have come up in Uttarakhand in the Upper-Ganga area, especially Bhagirathi and Alaknanda rivers and their tributaries, diverting the water to tunnels or reservoirs. This has had a serious impact on the ecosystem and biodiversity of the surrounding areas

    4. Deforestation: As per data from the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF), approx. 45,000 hectares of forestland has been diverted to non-forest use in Uttarakhand since 1980. Of this, 9,500 hectares has been diverted for construction of roads, 5,500 hectares for hydel projects and 3,100 hectares for transmission lines (Fig. 4). 68%of the diversion has taken place after the formation of the state in November 2000. This results in huge soil erosion, soil movement and loss of reinforcing power of the roots.
  2. Response Assessment: It is an evaluation of post disaster activities to examine how effectively and efficiently the affected areas can be recovered. It involves appropriate medical care to the injured, provision of food and shelter, and all activities imperative to stabilize the affected area to the minimum acceptable level.


The Uttarakhand disaster has caught the attention of the whole world to a major extent, due to the devastation and havoc and owing to the fact that the tourists from all over the country as well foreign countries were stranded in the affected area. The 2013 floods served several lessons serving as a basis to deal with the disaster Management and its impacts in an effective way by incorporating the strategies that were involved. Additionally, the loopholes should be critically analysed so that the extent could be minimized. For example, forecast of floods, preparedness, immediate response are several issues that need to be highlighted and thoroughly worked upon. The rescue and evacuation of 1,20,000 persons stranded in different locations was possible because of the joint effort of Indian Agencies and State Government. Evacuation was accomplished in less than 15 days. This reflects the efficiency of the civil administration and hence depicts that the internal coordination of the organizations and agencies at the state and central level plays a vital role in dealing such issues of national concern. The involvement of the Health Department of State ensured of no epidemic outbreak in spite of the mass cremation of dead bodies. The use of forecast, its precision in case of cyclones and the role of administration in utilizing these forecast share an indispensable role in the management.

Additionally, the cooperation of the civilians and society with the administration is one of the concrete lessons to be appreciated that was reflected in coping up the floods efficiently. Faith of the community in the forecast and contribution of the scientists made it possible. In short accuracy of the data and its analysis made it achievable. The scientific community is looking forward for the collection to be more precise by using instruments with higher sensitivity and consolidating efficient equipments. The check points and monitoring stations should be enhanced for greater coverage of data and attaining the confidence in the data and not merely relying on the experience.


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