The memories of the devastation caused by unprecedented flash floods of 11 July, 1994, which had washed away 27 lives in just a few seconds, is fresh in the memories of people in Shat, a little known village in Parvati valley of Himachal Pradesh.
The furious waters had also swept away the village and the dreams of villagers, who had to re-build everything, from homes to agriculture farms. However, 25 years on, they are as much exposed to floods as they were earlier, with the government not having done any intervention on ground, which can lessen the risk or devastation of flash floods in this vulnerable area in Kullu.
“It was raining heavily that day since afternoon, which followed flash floods in Shat nullah at around 4.15 PM. There was no time to save anybody from the gushing water, which had swollen by 200 feet. The trees got uprooted with the wind. It had all turned dark, and we could just hear the noise of water and boulders striking here and there,” recollected, Kamal Chand, 56, from Shat.
Another resident, Mohinder Singh, who was just 16 years old then, shared, “I lost two uncles and my sister in the floods. It was a dreadful sight. The floods of that intensity never occurred again, but the people here live under constant fear.”
However, despite the fact that it was perhaps the first-ever such devastating flash flood in the entire state, the locals alleged that no steps have been taken to reduce the impact in case of such a disaster in future.
“Immediately after the tragedy, there was some activity and the authorities got some check dams erected on the rivulet. They lost focus within few years,” the locals said.
According to study conducted by Indian Himalayas Climate Adaptation Programme (IHCAP) on climate change effect in Kullu, Parvati valley was identified as major risk spot for Monsoon floods, cloudburst events and potential Glacial Lake Outburst Floods (GLOFs).
The study said the steep topographic environment and monsoon climate coupled with human activities concentrated in the valley make the local communities highly susceptible to hazards.
The study said the Parvati valley faces significant threat from multiple hazards such as monsoon triggered flooding, glacial lake outbursts, landslides and earthquakes. This increases the potential for far reaching, cascading disasters to occur downstream.
It revealed an increase in formation of supra glacial lakes from 12 (1989) to 77 (2014) in Parvati valley catchment in Parvati valley catchment. Associated with retreat of glaciers, these lakes can pose threat to downstream inhabited areas, road infrastructure, agricultural land and hydro-electric projects.
As per studies, “In the first phase of study from 2012-15, the IHCAP made certain recommendations, which included installation of early flood warning system in Parvati valley and capacity building of locals to improve their response in floods. The second phase is implementation. However, the proposal for finding of Rs 20 crore for the purpose is pending approval of Government of India,” said Duni Chand Thakur, Deputy Director, Climate Change Knowledge Cell with the department of Environment, Science and Technology (the nodal department for climate change issue in HP).
The official said it is not necessary that the early warning system can save everything in flash floods, but it alarms and gives some time to respond, even if it is about a fraction of second.
It is pertinent to mention that flash floods and cloudbursts are a common phenomenon in Himachal Pradesh and the damage caused is more as people in majority villages or townships live very near to rivulets or rivers.
The state faced worst ever flash floods in Satluj River in the year 2000, wherein 100 people were reportedly washed away downstream, mainly in Rampur. However, for lack of any data, no precaution has been worked out by the state authorities even in that area.