The occurrence of landslides refers to the movement of materials such as rocks, soils, and artificial fills downward and outward due to gravitational forces. In recent years, there has been a significant surge in landslides, particularly in Uttarakhand, which has experienced an alarming increase of 2900% over the past five years. Himachal Pradesh has also witnessed a doubling of landslides in 2021.
The fragile nature of the Himalayan region, characterized by its topography, climate, and ecology, has long been acknowledged.
However, several key factors contribute to the escalating landslide incidents in recent times:
• Construction activities: Unregulated expansion of road networks has rendered the mountains vulnerable and susceptible to landslides.
o The construction of multiple dams in Uttarakhand, along with the Char Dham Pariyojana (CDP) and the Rishikesh-Karnprayag Railway Line project, involved extensive hill slope excavation and large-scale tree felling.
o In Himachal Pradesh, slope cutting, tunnelling, river damming, excessive tourism, and road widening have destabilized the hills.
• Heavy rainfall and climate change: Climate change has intensified heavy rainfall events, leading to flash floods and subsequent soil erosion, thereby increasing the frequency of landslides in both states.
• Deforestation: Excessive deforestation for infrastructure projects, mining activities, and tourism has undermined the stability of the hills in both Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand.
• Population pressure: Rising population pressure has amplified grazing activities, while urbanization has reduced the coverage of dense natural evergreen forests. These activities disrupt the ecological balance and loosen the soil, contributing to landslides.
To address this issue, the government has implemented various measures to mitigate landslide impacts, such as the National Disaster Management Guidelines on Management of Landslides and Snow Avalanches and National Landslide Susceptibility Mapping (NLSM).
However, additional remedial measures that can be adopted include:
• Rethinking the development model: Conducting comprehensive geological studies to understand the fragility of the Himalayas and formulating a development model that integrates the fragile ecosystem and regional development needs.
• Community participation: Involving local communities in afforestation efforts and protecting forests, making them active participants in preserving the ecology.
• Early warning and prevention: Shifting the focus from disaster management to early warning systems, prevention strategies, mitigation efforts, and building community resilience.
• Managing grazing activities: Implementing better grazing management practices, such as encouraging the growth of grass on previously grazed areas to enhance soil stability. Promoting the cultivation of alternative grasses with commercial value can incentivize farmers in these regions. Additionally, growing fuel or fodder trees on community lands can increase forest cover and reduce landslide hazards.
• Addressing flash floods: Implementing measures to store excess water in catchment areas to mitigate the impact of flash floods.
Conclusion: Striking a balance between ecology and economy is crucial. Therefore, the government and the community must collaborate to ensure the implementation of necessary steps for sustainable development.