Deforestation in Himalayas Blamed for Killer Flood

By Tara Chand Malhotra

NEW DELHI, India, August 3, 2000 (ENS) - More than 150 people have died and many others are injured after an unprecedented wave of flash floods swept across the banks of the Sutlej River in northern India Monday night. For four hours the Sutlej rose about 45 feet above normal and washed away everything in its path, changing the face of the riverbanks permanently.

The flood covers a 300 kilometer (186 mile) stretch from Namgya in the Kinnaur district to Tatapani in the Mandi district of Himachal Pradesh state.

The state's chief minister, Prem Kumar Dhumal, who made an aerial survey of the affected areas, said that the floods have taken a heavy toll of life and property.


Prem Kumar Dhumal, chief minister of Himachal Pradesh(Photos courtesy Himachal Pradesh Tourism)
So far, 125 bodies have been recovered from the river. "But many more are missing," Dhumal said.

More than 30 bridges have been washed away. Many police posts, government rest houses, and army camps have been also washed away along with hundreds of villages," the chief minister said.

Nearly 200 villages inhabited by at least 1,500 people remained inaccessible today for the third straight day. More than 1,000 houses and property worth billions of rupees has been destroyed by the flood.

The floods are believed to have been caused by a cloud burst in Tibet. Environmentalists say that massive deforestation in the hills is the main reason for the severe flooding.

Landslides during the summer monsoon rains in this hilly state are also attributable to deforestation at higher altitudes, environmentalists say.

The Himachal region has seen growing commercialization resulting in unplanned and haphazard development of real estate in the name of tourism. Consequently, the extensive selling of trees has gradually changed the ecological balance of the picturesque state.


Streams like this in India's high hills become roaring rivers flooding the lower lands during summer monsoon rains.
Dhumal said, "I have spoken to both Prime Minister Vajpayee and Defence Minister George Fernandes and both have assured me of full cooperation. "In fact, the Prime Minister told me that Central assistance teams would soon join the rescue operations. According to initial estimates, property worth 10 billion rupees has been damaged. We have asked the Centre to release five billion."

According to Dhumal, three power plants have been shut down because the flood water has entered and damaged the machinery. "The Bhaba power plant has been hit badly. This plant was producing 120 megawatts of electricity. The Naptha Jhakri power plant has also been hit," he said.

While the tribal belt of Kinnaur continues to remain cut off from rest of the state as all the telecommunication links have been washed away, Rampur is slowly limping back to normalcy.

"The telephone lines to Rampur would be restored in the next couple of days. But Kinnaur is going to take time," said a top official. Temporary bridges into the region are being built with the help of army and paramilitary forces.