Himalayan Glacial Lake Catastrophe Underscores Climate Change Peril

Himalayan Glacial Lake Catastrophe Underscores Climate Change Peril

In a tragic turn of events, relentless heavy rains in northeast India have triggered the catastrophic breach of the Lhonak glacial lake in Sikkim state, unleashing devastating floods and causing a significant loss of life.

As of Thursday, the toll stands at a minimum of 14 lives lost, with grave concerns for the safety of 102 individuals, including 22 army personnel, who remain missing. This disaster has had a profound impact on around 22,000 people, with an additional 26 reported injuries, and the destruction of eleven critical bridges has further complicated the already challenging rescue operations.

The unrelenting downpours, along with the washout of key infrastructure and the rapid flow of rivers, have impeded search and rescue efforts. Heart-wrenching video footage vividly portrays floodwaters engulfing residential areas, resulting in house collapses, severe damage to army bases, and the submersion of vehicles.

Satellite imagery has also unveiled a dramatic reduction in the size of the lake, underscoring the extensive drainage that has occurred.

This tragic incident adds to a growing and deeply concerning trend of deadly weather events across the South Asian mountainous region, all of which are increasingly attributed to climate change. The meteorological department has issued grave warnings regarding the potential for landslides and disruptions to flights as persistent rainfall is expected to persist over the next two days, affecting not only Sikkim but also its neighboring states. The primary highway connecting Sikkim to West Bengal has been severed, effectively isolating the state from vital supply routes.

G T Dhungel, a prominent member of the Sikkim Legislative Assembly, has sounded the alarm regarding shortages of petrol and diesel in the state capital, Gangtok. Despite these challenges, food supplies have remained relatively accessible, providing a measure of relief to the affected communities.

The initial trigger for this calamity was a cloudburst that unleashed an extraordinary deluge of rain over a short period onto the Lhonak glacial lake. This event, in turn, triggered flash floods downstream in the Teesta valley, a region located approximately 150 kilometers north of Gangtok, near the border with China.

In a chilling echo of recent warnings, a 2020 report from India's national disaster management agency had explicitly flagged the escalating risk posed by expanding glacial lakes to downstream infrastructure and communities. This threat has been amplified by the ongoing retreat of Himalayan glaciers, a phenomenon firmly attributed to the relentless march of climate change.

Pema Gyamtsho, the director-general of the Nepal-based International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development, has voiced his profound concern over the latest flash flood, highlighting the region's grave vulnerability to the ever-intensifying impacts of climate change.

In recent months, other mountainous regions in India, as well as parts of Pakistan and Nepal, have borne the brunt of torrential rains, floods, and landslides, resulting in a considerable loss of life and widespread devastation.

Remarkably, a study conducted by India's National Remote Sensing Centre a decade ago had already sounded the alarm, indicating a high probability (42%) of the Lhonak lake breaching its banks. This recent catastrophe surpasses the severity of the 1968 lake breach in Sikkim, as it involved the release of dam water from the state-run NHPC's Teesta V dam.

Questions persist regarding the timing and management of the dam gates, with NHPC pledging to conduct a comprehensive damage assessment once water levels return to normal.

The comments posted here are not from Cnews Live. Kindly refrain from using derogatory, personal, or obscene words in your comments.