Following an on-ground survey by a high level team of National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), the government has got a clear picture of the potential disaster created by a river-blockade which resulted due to a massive landslide in Ladakh’s Zanskar region.
It has been learnt through reliable sources that the experts and the authorities have decided to breach the lake using explosives for avoiding the disaster. If no swift action is taken, the disaster can endanger hundreds of lives in 40 villages apart from washing away about 50 bridges and other infrastructure, an official said.
As reported by eco Kashmir last week, the landslide blocked the river Phutkal in Zanskar-Kargil on January, 15 thereby creating an artificial lake where water keeps accumulating constantly. Earlier an aerial survey of the affected area was carried out, but it had produced only unreliable and unscientific information.
On February 11, a 10-member team of experts comprising hydrologists, geologists and road experts carried out an on-ground survey after they landed up in the area in an Indian Air Force helicopter. “This was nothing short of a heroic effort to land in the area as it was not only dangerous, but the temperature of the area is around -35 degree Celsius,” said Kargil’s Deputy Commissioner, Prassana Ramaswamy.
He said that the team has come up with a detailed report from the area which has given the administration a fair idea about the potential disaster. “Apart from getting the accurate figures of the lake and the landslide, they have also got soil and rock samples which will help in devising an effective strategy about the safe release of water,” Prassana said.
For the first time, the experts have given a figure about the volume of impounded water saying that it is around 30 to 40 cubic million meters even as water keeps accumulating in the lake. They have further informed that the blockade is 450-meter long and 50-meter high while the lake is spread upto a diameter of five kilometers.
Prassana said that while mitigation of the potential disaster is entirely handled by the NDMA, the district administration is fully prepared to deal with any eventuality. The deputy commissioner informed that they have already started the operation in response of the impending disaster. The operation, he said, has been named as “Operation Khatak” for the sake of auspiciousness as the term “Khatak” is quite auspicious in Ladakh’s culture.
“We have laid out a comprehensive programme for the rehabilitation of the affected people though we are hopeful of averting the disaster,” he said adding that he has confronted with such a situation for the first time. Quoting the NDMA experts, he said that it has been a first experience for them as well. Locals from Kargil said that they have never heard of such river-blockades neither they have witnessed such incidents themselves in their life-time. “This is something I am hearing of for the first time,” said 79-year-old Gulzar Hussain.
Fida Wazeer, a government official, expressed similar feelings adding it might be a manifestation of the changing climatic conditions.
Explaining why a huge landslide, measuring 50 meters in height, might have occurred, Professor Mohammad Sultan Bhat, who heads the Geography department in Kashmir University, said that it could have happened because of a snow avalanche or it could be a rock-fall, a geological term used for certain landslides. “Even it could have happened because of high velocity of the upper stream or because of an active fault which induce landslides. Rivers in our area are geologically controlled,” Bhat observed.
Had it not been the harsh winter when temperatures hover around minus 40 degree Celsius, the authorities and the disaster management experts could not have afforded the leisure with which they have responded to the disaster. “It is because of the frozen upper surface of the artificial lake upto five to six feet that the breaches have not occurred. Otherwise it could be a different story,” said Skalzang Wangyal, the Executive Councillor for Zanskar Affairs in Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council (LAHDC).
“Just imagine when it will start melting from March. So, we should be in a hurry to save some 40 villages from total destruction,” Wangyal said.
But, divisional commissioner Kashmir (and Ladakh), Rohit Kansal is sure that all the action for mitigating the disaster will start soon. “Now we have got the details, you should expect the action soon,” he said, but he refused to give any details when exactly the action will start.