ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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A Himalayan Tragedy

The long-term issues exposed by the Uttarakhand floods need urgent attention.

The devastating floods in Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh, that have taken over a thousand lives and destroyed in their wake villages, towns and the fragile mountain region, have to be viewed as an unprecedented disaster on any count. The suddenness of the cloud burst, the force of the water, the extent of destruction, the vast numbers affected, the difficult terrain for rescue operations and the substantial death toll, all add up to one of the biggest natural calamities in recent history. Yet, the response to the crisis, from governments, politicians of all hues and the media, has been mostly shallow and uninformed. It has oscillated between finger-pointing and opportunistic politics to generalisations about causation.

At one extreme end of the spectrum we heard about Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi’s fantastical claim that his government had single-handedly rescued 15,000 stranded Gujarati pilgrims in less than two days, and on the other were tirades about the lack of disaster management. Between these extremes, one a figment of imagination and the other an exaggeration, lies a vast area of self-evident truths that neither individual politicians nor governments and policymakers seem prepared to face. Even as the full extent of the disaster sinks in, it is important to address the questions which arise within a larger perspective of environmentally sustainable development in ecologically fragile regions.

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