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Owing to haphazard construction, next quake can reduce Shimla into rubble : Report NDMA

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Even as the death toll from the 7.9 magnitude earthquake climbs to over 3,200 and stunned survivors struggle to come to terms with the magnitude of the disaster, experts say the worst is yet to come. The quake, which reduced large parts of Kathmandu to rubble, is not the ‘great Himalayan quake’ that the region has been bracing for.

SHIMLA: In last few years, Himachal Pradesh (HP) is witnessing increased frequency of earthquakes up to 5 magnitude on the Richter scale, which has led to the fear of bigger quakes hitting the state in future. While experts are claiming low intensity quakes release seismic energy to avoid bigger earthquakes, unplanned constructions, even on steep hills, has led to fear of widespread destruction if a high magnitude earthquake hits the state.

A bigger quake haunts Himalayas

The devastating earthquake that originated in Nepal on Saturday may have been the strongest to hit the central Himalayan region in the last 80 years, but scientists say this was not the big one that they had been fearing would strike the area.

Prof Sankar Kumar Nath of IIT Kharagpur, who has studied seismic activity in the Himalayan region,said

He further said,

If you look at it differently, we are actually lucky that only a 7.9-magnitude earthquake has come. I would be very happy to have a few 7.9-magnitude earthquakes than a 9-magnitude earthquake which would be absolute disaster. The trouble is that in terms of energy release, which is what causes the damage, it would take 40 to 50 earthquakes of magnitude 7.9 to avoid an earthquake of magnitude 9.

A magnitude 9 earthquake is ten times bigger but approximately 32 times stronger than a magnitude 8 earthquake — magnitude is a merely a reflection of the height of seismic waves measured on a seismograph.
While India has escaped relatively unhurt in Saturday’s earthquake, the danger of aftershocks still persists.

The areas falling in districts Chamba, Kangra, Mandi, Kullu, Hamirpur and Bilaspur are very sensitive as they fall in the very high damage risk seismic zone (Zone V), whereas the rest of the areas falls in high damage risk zone (Zone IV).

A study had shown that if an earthquake of bigger magnitude takes place in Himachal during night hours, then it would kill 2.40 lakh people while during the morning hour casualty would be around 1.6 lakh.

An assistant professor of geology at HPU’s regional centre at Dharamshala, Mukta, said that after a major earthquake in 2005, whose epicenter was in Kashmir, Himachal has been witnessing low intensity earthquakes at regular intervals.

She further added,

Last year in October-November around 7-8 low intensity earthquakes were recorded in Dharamshala and Baijnath areas of Kangra district in a span of 3-4 days.

She said Kangra is a seismically-prone area. She said in the seismic-prone areas construction needs to be regulated and earthquake resistant buildings need to be built to minimize the impact of quakes.

She added,

If the buildings are not made according to the set norms then even a 4-5 magnitude tremor can destroy those.

Massive haphazard constructions in the hill towns of Shimla, Dharamshala, Dalhousie and Kullu have made them prone to natural hazards like earthquake. In Shimla, construction has taken place on steep slopes. An earthquake of 8 or above magnitude can turn the tourist town into rubbles as 14 major localities are situated on an average slope of 35 to 70 degrees with peak population density of 2,000 to 3,000 per hectare, despite the fact that the city falls under seismic zone IV.

A study conducted by the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) has shown that during natural disasters like earthquake 17% people would be injured while 3-4% would die.

Development plan of Shimla prepared by the town and country planning department has identified geologically week areas including northern slopes of the Ridge extending up to Grand Hotel in the west covering Lakkar Bazar, including the Central School extending to Auckland Nursery School, then down to Dhobi Ghat below Idgah electric sub-station. The slide-prone areas include Laddakhi Muhalla (Krishna Nagar) and the spur below directorate of education department and surrounding areas of Hotel Clark’s.

Localities like Cemetery, Sanjauli, Jiunu Colony, Chakkar, Katchi Ghati and Lower Bharari are susceptible to major mishaps during earthquakes whereby chain effect of collapse of building may affect many buildings on slopes down below.

According to the report prepared by Himachal Pradesh State Disaster Management Authority, seismically the state lies in the great Alpine-Himalayan seismic belt running from Alps mountains through Serbia, Croatia, Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Nepal, Bhutan and Burma.

Most severe earthquakes in Himachal

April 4, 1905 in Kangra: An earthquake of 7.8 magnitude killed 20,000 people and 53,000 domestic animals had perished while one lakh houses were destroyed. Economic cost of recovery was estimated at Rs 29 lakh during that time.

January 19, 1975 in Kinnaur: A quake of 6.8 magnitude had killed 60 people while 100 others were badly injured. About 2,000 dwellings were devastated and 2,500 people rendered homeless.

April 26, 1986 in Dharamshala: A tremor of 5.5 magnitude had killed six people and caused extensive damage to buildings. Loss was estimated at Rs 65 crore.

March 24, 1995 in Chamba: An earthquake of 4.9 magnitude had left over 70% houses with cracks.

July 29, 1997 in Sundernagar: A quake of 5.0 magnitude had left around 1,000 houses damaged.

Madan has studied English Literature and Journalism from HP University and lives in Shimla. He is an amateur photographer and has been writing on topics ranging from environmental, socio-economic, development programs, education, eco-tourism, eco-friendly lifestyle and to green technologies for over 9 years now. He has an inclination for all things green, wonderful and loves to live in solitude. When not writing, he can be seen wandering, trying to capture the world around him in his DSLR lens.

Environment

Over 500 Forest Fire Cases Reported in Himachal, Forest And Fire Deptts Remain Irresponsive, Allege Locals

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Forest Fires in Himachal Pradesh in 2019

Shimla-Over 500 forest fire cases have been reported from Himachal Pradesh affecting an area of over 2600 hectare of forests in the state. These forest fire incidents in the state have caused huge financial loss, which is expected to rise in days to come as forest fire incidents are increasing each day.

The forest fire incidents in and around Shimla town are also increasing each day. The local residents in Totu, Chakkar, Tara Devi, Shogi, Bhatakufer and Mehli areas say they are facing troubles due to the forest fire.

Locals allege that neither forest department nor any fire department responds to their information of fire in the region.

“We called the fire services yet no fire brigade or firemen came to our rescue. The administration also did not help us nor take any information regarding the forest fire.Ultimately we had to douse the fire with whatever water we had collected on our own,”

Praveen, a local of Chakkar area of Shimla told ANI.

 

Locals in Chakkar and Totu on Monday and Tuesday had to collectively save the forests from fire and also had narrow escape by saving their houses from the forest fire.

They alleged that the forest and fire departments spend a huge amount of money to constitute fire fighting teams but they all have failed to control the incidents of the forest fire. They also said that the forest department’s claims of helicopters being deputed to control the forest fire are just fake claims.

“We left everything and started dousing the fire as soon as we got to know that the forest fire is reaching our homes. The government claims to have to spend a lot on controlling the forest fires but nobody in the administration responded to our calls for help. Either the information has not reached the officials or they are not doing anything about it,”

Anay Kant, another resident told ANI.

Locals say they hired labourers to control the forest fire. Dev Raj, one of the local labourers told the agency:

“We reach the spot and try to douse the fire as soon as possible. We don’t know about the help from the administration as we were busy in our work.”

The forest minister of the state, Govind Singh said that despite all efforts to sensitize the people about the forest they could not stop these incidents.

He said that the department has announced money rewards for those informing about those responsible for fire in the forests.-ANI

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Environment

Hydropower Projects in Himachal Not ‘Eco-Friendly, Govt Keeps People in Dark Through Biased Environment Impact Assessment Reports

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Himachal's Hydropower Projects Are not eco-friendly

Shimla- The Himachal Pradesh Government, as witnessed on several occasions, favours hydropower companies over the environmental impacts and affected people. It believes that these projects would boost the economic growth of the state and that there are hardly any environmental hazards linked to the construction of excess hydropower projects. There is a long list of pending projects that the government wants to get constructed.

In its environmental assessment reports,  the government preach that hydropower is eco-friendly. However, as a bitter reality, it does not appear to be true. There are severe environmental hazards linked to the construction of these projects, which the government is not ready to admit. As a result of this deliberate neglection, the villagers, rivers, local water sources, farming lands, local wildlife etc. are suffering. Houses of people were destroyed due to seepage of water from tunnels of hydropower projects and they are forced to evacuate. Let’s take a look at a new report compiled by an environmental group explaining why hydropower projects in the Himalayas are not eco-friendly.  

In the month of the ‘World Environment Day’, Himdhara Environment Research and Action Collective released their report titled “The Hidden Cost of Hydropower” to highlight the risks associated with hydropower construction, especially in Himalayan regions like Himachal Pradesh.  Over the last few years, increasing evidence has emerged that hydropower production may not be so ‘clean and green’ after all. This document compiles primary and secondary pieces of evidence of the impacts triggered by underground construction for the run of the river (ROR) hydropower projects highlighting the issues of environmental hazards and risks involved.

Echoing the fragility of the Himalayan region due to geological instability and climate change-related disasters like flash floods and cloud bursts, the report highlights the role of construction activities that accentuate this fragility.

 “A report of the state’s own disaster management cell says that around 10 Mega hydropower stations are located in the medium and high-risk landslide area,”

states the document.

  The report explains that the magnitude of the underground component of the civil work in hydropower projects involving blasting and dynamiting exacerbate existing vulnerabilities. These impacts are yet to be adequately studied and understood.

Visuals and testimonies of affected people from project sites in Kinnaur, Kullu and Chamba falling in the Satluj, Beas and Ravi basin collected over the years have been used to show the impacts. Case studies like that of the Parbati II, Karccham Wangtoo, Kashang and Bajoli Holi projects illustrate how landslides, drying up of springs, damages to houses, farms and forests have made difficult the lives and livelihoods of the people in the project area.

Landslide in Jhakri village of shimla due to hydropower project

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The report finds that the existing studies available on these impacts are inadequate or biased in favour of the hydropower producers, with economics as the main concern. Environment Impact Assessment reports of hydro-power projects gloss over the geological & seismic vulnerability of the project sites, with an explanation that the ‘hurdles’, ‘surprises’ and ‘incompetencies’ of the mountain geology would be handled at a later stage, if and when they occur. ‘Scientific’ linkages become difficult to establish later, and during EIAs, the concentration is to only rush through the studies to get ‘clearances’.

“They say there is no scientific evidence that the landslides are because of project activities and so we cannot claim compensation in case of cracks in the houses or damage to fields”,

according to Ramanand Negi of Urni Village located in the affected area of the Karchham Wangtoo project and now sitting on a huge landslide. 

The report also refers to the Audit reports of the Comptroller Auditor General to show how the costs of these ‘surprises’ are borne by the affected people or transferred to the public exchequer. The costs that producers have been forced to bear have led to financial losses, bad loans, and cumulatively a slump in the hydropower sector over the last few years. 

According to the report,

“The contribution of hydropower sector today to the country’s total electricity production has halved from 25% to 13% in the last decade. Where this state of hydropower industries was an opportunity to review hydropower policy and the sector’s viability, the report of Parliamentary standing committee on energy that reviewed the performance of hydro projects in 2018 turned a blind eye to environmental impacts and safety norms”.

 

Based on the committee’s recommendations the Ministry of Power issued an order in March 2019 recognizing hydropower projects with a capacity of more than 25 MW as ‘renewable’ source of energy, thus eligible for further subsidies. Himdhara’s report, however, brings out that hydro projects do not deserve the ‘green’ tag and the government should stop further subsiding the sector, especially large projects.

Water Sources drying due to hydropower projects

Water sources drying in himachal due to hydro projects

 

The report also identifies the institutional failures of the Central Water Commission, the Central Electricity Authority that are supposed to assess the Detailed Project Reports and give techno-economic clearances, monitor the progress, and reasons for the delay in projects.

This list also includes the Ministry of Environment that has blindly granted environment and forest clearances overlooking the above impacts and non-compliance; the State Directorate of Energy and State Disaster Management Authority, who have failed to fulfil their regulatory roles and ensure that there is no negligence.

The environmental group demanded that an independent scientific review of the immediate or long-term implications of construction work for hydropower development in the Himalayas should be commissioned. Citizens’ engagement, public consent mechanisms need to be strengthened, and a grievance redressal process needs to be put in place.

 

Loos of wildlife in himachal due to hydropower projects

 

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India to Face Water and Food Security Risks by 2030, 21 Major Cities to Run Out of Groundwater by 2020: Report

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Water crisis in India by 20310

India is suffering from the worst water crisis in its history and millions of lives and livelihoods are under threat. Currently, 600 million Indians face high to extreme water stress and about two lakh people die every year due to inadequate access to safe water. The crisis is only going to get worse. By 2030, the country’s water demand is projected to be twice the available supply, implying severe water scarcity for hundreds of millions of people and an eventual 6% loss in the country’s GDP.

No Water in India by 2030

As per the report of National Commission for Integrated Water Resource Development of MoWR, the water requirement by 2050 in high use scenario is likely to be a milder 1,180 BCM, whereas the present-day availability is 695 BCM. The total availability of water possible in the country is still lower than this projected demand, at 1,137 BCM. Thus, there is an imminent need to deepen our understanding of our water resources and usage and put in place interventions that make our water use efficient and sustainable.

Water crisis in India by 2030

Classification according to Composite Water Index Scores (FY 16-17)

India is undergoing the worst water crisis in its history. Already, more than 600 million people are facing acute water shortages. Critical groundwater resources – which account for 40% of our water supply – are being depleted at unsustainable rates.

Droughts are becoming more frequent, creating severe problems for India’s rain-dependent farmers (53% of agriculture in India is rainfed). When water is available, it is likely to be contaminated (up to 70% of our water supply), resulting in nearly 200,000 deaths each year. Interstate disagreements are on the rise, with seven major disputes currently raging, pointing to the fact that limited frameworks and institutions are in place for national water governance.

Indeed, if nothing changes, and fast, things will get much worse: best estimates indicate that India’s water demand will exceed supply by a factor of two by 2030, with severe water scarcity on the horizon for hundreds of millions.

Water Index scores vary widely across states, but most states have achieved a score below 50% and could significantly improve their water resource management practices. The Water Index scores for FY 16-17 vary from 76 (Gujarat) to 26 (Meghalaya), with the median score being 49 for Non-Himalayan states and 31 for North-Eastern and Himalayan states. Gujarat is the highest performer, closely followed by other High performers such as Madhya Pradesh and Andhra Pradesh. Seven states have scores between 50-65 (including two North-Eastern and Himalayan states) and have been classified as Medium performers.

Water crisis in India by 2030 2

Ranking of states according to Composite Water Index Scores (FY 16-17)

Alarmingly, 60% of states (14 out of 24) have achieved scores below 50 and have been classified as Low performers. Low performers are concentrated across the populous agricultural belts of North and East India and among the North-Eastern and Himalayan states.

Most states have achieved less than 50% of the total score in the augmentation of groundwater resources, highlighting the growing national crisis—54% of India’s groundwater wells are declining, and 21 major cities are expected to run out of groundwater as soon as 2020, affecting 100 million people. Further, 70% of states have also achieved scores of less than 50% on managing on-farm water effectively. Given the fact that agriculture accounts for 80% of all water use, this underperformance, as discussed in the analysis of low performers above, poses significant water and food security risks for the country.

Finally, states have also performed averagely on providing safe drinking water to rural areas. With 800 million people or 70% of the country’s population, living in rural areas, and about two lakh people in the country dying each year due to a lack of access to safe water, this is one of the most critical service delivery challenges in the world.

Encouragingly, several water-scarce states are the leaders in Index performance. Several of the high and medium performers—Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Telangana— are states that have suffered from severe droughts in recent years.

Overall, there is large inter-state variation in Water Index scores, but most states have achieved a score below 50 (out of 100) and need to significantly improve their water resource management practices. The Water Index scores for FY 16-17 vary from ~76 (Gujarat) to ~26 (Meghalaya), with the median score being ~49 for Non-Himalayan states and ~31 for North-Eastern and Himalayan states. Gujarat is the highest performer, closely followed by other high performers such as Madhya Pradesh and Andhra Pradesh. Most other states are clustered around the 40-60 band. Seven states have scores between 50- 65 (including two North-Eastern and Himalayan states) and have been classified as Medium performers.

This data was compiled and collected from 24 states. The data was collected for two years—the base year of FY 15-16, and FY 16-17—thereby enabling not only a benchmarking of the current water performance of states but also the study of the evolution of this performance across the last two years.

However, 60% of states (14 out of 24) have achieved scores below 50 and have been classified as Low performers. Most North-Eastern and Himalayan states are the lowest performers on the Index, but a few have scores that are comparable to or better than most of the larger states. Assam, Nagaland, Uttarakhand, and Meghalaya have the lowest Index scores (in FY 16-17) out of all states, ranging from 26 to 31. This low performance involves low scores across almost all indicator themes, with several states scoring zeroes or not submitting data for as many as seven indicators (out of 28).

On the other hand, Tripura and Himachal Pradesh have high scores, with both performing well in supply-side management (irrigation and watershed development) and water-supply provision (rural and urban).

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