Ecology is the economy of the Himalayas

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Nobody argues that development shouldn’t happen in the region. That roads and highways shouldn’t be built. One only has to take into account the environmental concerns involved in this work

Ecological disasters have become a regular phenomenon in the Himalayas, particularly in the state of Uttarakhand. The entire ecosystem in the region seems to be under great stress and no longer functions as efficiently as it did a few decades ago. This has resulted in unprecedented rainfall and flash floods in the region, especially in the past decade and a half.

As for the recent rain rage in Uttarakhand, it bears many similarities to the 2013 Kedarnath tragedy that rocked the entire nation. In the Kumaon region in particular, massive damage to life and property was reported. About 55 people lost their lives and many are still missing. Most of the country roads and federal highways remain closed. The rain broke a record that was over 100 years old.

There are many similarities between the 2013 flash floods that struck Kedarnath and the 2021 tragedy. First, both did not occur at the height of the monsoons. The devastation in 2013 occurred in June, when the monsoons were still to come. The current chaos took place when IMD announced the end of the monsoons.

Rain tragedies of this magnitude before and after the monsoons raise some uncomfortable questions. We should seriously and critically analyze what happened on both occasions. Such matters have unfortunately been ignored in the past but now require serious attention. It also becomes important when such disasters repeat themselves in such a short period of time.

Also read: Uttarakhand floods: Easy to point the finger at climate change, but humanity is equally to blame

The reasons for the occurrence of such environmental tragedies can be found in a report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The recently published report highlighted that the frequency of such flash floods and storms will increase many times over over the next 20 years. This is not just the story of the Indian subcontinent; Other countries are also facing such disasters.

People have always articulated their activities for different seasons. Changing climate patterns completely disrupt such activities, from farming to other human-related issues. Climate change hinders such activities and ultimately causes various economic and ecological disturbances. In addition, being unprepared causes more damage.

With climate change, winter rains are likely to weaken. It is the precipitation in the winter season that contributes to the formation of glaciers. Let us now assume that it does not rain in November-December, but at the end of winter. The snow remains soft and loose at this time of the year and slides down in the form of avalanches during heavy rainfall. The village of Reni faced the wrath of a similar avalanche in 2020.

We will have to be very careful when planning a future strategy, especially for the mountainous region of the Himalayas. Two things need to be discussed: How much did we learn from the Kedarnath tragedy? And was it useful to us? Unfortunately, we don’t take such issues seriously. After a few days of hectic and screaming, everything cools down and we return to our “normal” routines. This happened after the Kedarnath tragedy, and it is believed that we would do the same this time too.

The Uttarakhand tragedy is the result of the mixing of two phenomena: global factors that cause climate change and lead to frequent flash floods; and local factors, such as unplanned and arbitrary development activities, make these floods and landslides more deadly than ever. It is expected that these two factors will trigger more such tragedies in the Himalayas in the near future.

The Himalayan states are extremely vulnerable to global warming and climate change. It is difficult to stop the overall global warming phenomenon, but the ways in which we have made changes in the name of development in the region can definitely be redeemed.

Nobody argues that development shouldn’t happen in the region. That roads and highways shouldn’t be built. One only has to take into account the environmental concerns involved in this work. The development plan here has to be different than in other parts of the country. Here ecology takes precedence over economy. In fact, ecology is the economy of the Himalayas.

It must be clear that a natural disaster is unstoppable in the current scenario as climate change and global warming will continue to happen thanks to our insatiable desire for “development”. But the scale of the disaster can be mitigated at the local level. The development must take place within the local ecological limits and conditions. Himalayan politics must be different from that of the plains. Here not everything can be done along the lines of other parts of the country. The Himalaya’s vulnerability is well known, but unfortunately it has not been given the importance it deserves. Stable Himalaya also stands for ecological and economic stability elsewhere.

In addition, regular accountability for the growth of the ecosystem and its behavior has not been established. This applies to the whole country. We do not have a status report on ecosystem resources. It is similar with the economy. We do not know the current resources of the country, especially water, soil, air and forest. These were discussed arbitrarily, but never presented collectively. For example, we were seriously concerned about the country’s economic growth, but we don’t know exactly where we are ecologically.

No economy can be stable without a self-sustaining ecosystem, and therefore a strong ecosystem is as important, if not more important, to any country than the economy. This is one lesson that the government and the people must learn.

The author is an environmentalist, green activist, and founder of the Himalayan Environmental Studies and Conservation Organization. The views expressed are personal.


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