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Sinking Himalayas? Joshimath, Doda, what next?

Sinking Himalayas: In early January 2023, when suddenly around 600 odd houses developed cracks in district Joshimath, situated on the hill range of Himalayas in the Uttarakhand (northern hill state) state of India, the experts said the catastrophe was waiting to happen. Almost a month later in a similar fashion, many houses in district Doda of Kashmir valley witnessed a similar crack in the houses, although not of a similar nature and numbers. Such incidents in a very short duration of time remind us of what experts had maintained during the Joshimath incident that the entire range of the Himalayas is vulnerable to subsidence due to external factors and incidents like Joshimath may become common in the future. 

So, is the entire Himalayan range actually vulnerable to subsidence leading to towns and cities witnessing a catastrophe like Joshimath in the future?

What is subsidence

Subsidence is a phenomenon linked with the sinking of the ground, when the underground water or other material is moved or removed, leaving behind a vacuum. When huge volumes of underground water, gases, or even oil are removed from below the surface, the remanent hollow place is required to fill, and thus the upper part of the space caves in.

What is making the Himalayan range weaker?

Uttarakhand State Disaster  Management Authority (USDMA),  which immediately initiated an investigation into the cause of the cracks in Joshimath ruled out that the cracks were caused by the development projects like the widening of highways in the Himalayan region and primarily pointed out the loosening of the soil as a reason.

The government authorities claimed that by geotechnical, geophysical, and hydrological investigations they would be able to conclusively find out the cause of cracks, but what necessarily needs to be found out is whether this phenomenon is reversible and if we could save the Himalayan range from the phenomenon of loosening of soil which, as confirmed by the USDMA, is reducing the soil’s bearing capacity.

In the first week of February, not more than a month after the Joshimath cracks when Doda, in Kashmir valley developed similar cracks in the houses the question is more pertinent about the possible catastrophe that the Himalayas may be subjected to.

Possible causes of Sinking Himalayas

The overpopulation on the hills and the development is becoming a big issue on the hills and the rest of it is self-explanatory. The mountainous region has witnessed exponential growth in development and infrastructural projects in the past few decades. 

Hills, over the past decades, have seen massive construction and infrastructure development to accommodate the growing population. New roads and multi-lane highways, that are carved out by bombarding major portions of the mountains, dams, and tunnels, and the construction of buildings in hilly towns and cities have been done against the warning of the experts.

The boost in connectivity that comes with the construction of the roads though enables and promotes tourism but the same, in the past has been becoming a major cause of concern for the sustainability of the hill and the hill ecosystem.

There is a classic example of Shimla, the capital of another hill state Himachal Pradesh which has seen an acute shortage of water resulting in a complete ban on all tourism activities in order to secure water for the locals. People of Shimla have been up in arms against the unmanned and unregulated tourism, which they claim have been putting the hills and its residents in a vulnerable state. 

Hills have been increasingly witnessing acute water crises for past years and this, the experts insist is largely mad made. Shortage of water in the hills is considered to be the prime cause of the loosening of soil which in turn become weak reducing its bearing capacity.

Collateral damage in Sinking Himalayas

It is not that one or two factors contributed to the situation, but it is a whole chain of events that has led to the point of no return in the Himalayas. For years, the region has been plundered in the name of developmental activities. Environmentalists, activists, and researchers have been pointing out how deforestation, soil erosion, and dumping of debris in the valleys would pose a greater threat to the people of the region. In 2013, the northern state of Uttarakhand witnessed one of the worst flooding situations. Continuous construction activities and the dumping of garbage and debris in the valleys were stated as the primary cause of the flooding. The valleys were filled with concrete debris, which could not support the flow of water, caused by heavy rainfall. Several rivulets and streams were blocked that leading to the disaster in the state. 

What is the possible solution for Sinking Himalayas?

The solution would begin with the fixing of responsibility. This situation is dire and several other major cities, like Shimla, Nainital, Manali and many more are in danger. God forbid that something similar happens to any of the above-mentioned, highly populated towns. There is a dire need to take immediate steps to curtail, deforestation, uncontrolled construction, garbage and debris dumping in valleys, and soil erosion. The governments in the Himalayan states are required to boost the measures unless something unfortunate happens. 

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