The fragile ecology of the Himalayas

On 7 February 2021 Uttarakhand’s Chamoli district experienced a disaster in the form of an avalanche when a small portion of the Nanda Devi glacier broke off. The sudden deluge caused considerable damage to NTPC’s Tapovan-Vishnugad hydel project and the Rishi Ganga Hydel Project. At least 72 people were confirmed to have been killed in the disaster. But this is not a new phenomenon and every year there are many reports of sudden deluge all across the Himalayan region.

The Himalayas has maintained the climate of the Indian subcontinent. Himalayas act as a barrier by diverting the monsoons to pour the rain in the fertile northern pains rather than to drift away to further north. Similarly, the mountain range also blocks the cold northern winds to reach the Indian subcontinent. The Himalayas all the way from Afghanistan to Myanmar with 110 peaks over 24,000 feet. They are also very rich in biodiversity and are the source of numerous perennial rivers and water bodies. Rivers like Indus, Ganges, and Brahmaputra that originate in the Himalayas are the lifelines of millions of people in the subcontinent.  

But in recent years, the Himalayan region has seen a drastic transformation with increasing population and deforestation. The Himalayas are still a very young mountain range and this means the region is not as stable as older mountain ranges. This is also the reason for the high number of earthquakes. There are many exploitative projects and resource extractions initiatives have are going throughout the region. The increasing influx of tourists in the Ladakh region which is increasing the pressure in the already sensitive region or the limestone extraction near Mussoorie which has transformed the surrounding lush mountain region barren and unstable are just some of the instances.  The cities located in the periphery of the Himalayas have started are also facing the same degradation problems in the plain region. Due to ever-increasing population growth, the size of cities is also increasing and this means overflowing garbage and drains. Unplanned growth of new settlements and uncontrolled tourism has only exacerbated this issue.

Photo by rasik on

Steps to safeguard the region

There is a need for safeguards on a national level that would help in preserving the fragile ecology of this region. First, it needs to be ensured that there is sustainable urbanization in the mountain habitats by town planning and adoption of architectural norms. Due to the sensitivity in this region, it is imperative that we have to control the growth of new settlements in the region and the existing settlements should be developed with all the basic urban facilities. Solid waste management is another area that needs to be the focus. Plastic bags use should be banned in all the towns and villages in the Himalayan region. Some states like Himachal Pradesh and Sikkim have enforced this rule but there are still many other states that have not fully implemented this rule. Pilgrimage is an important part of the tourism sector in the Himalayan region. Sustainable pilgrimage needs to be promoted and the inflow of pilgrims has to be determined according to the ecological capacity of that site. Roads are an essential node for the connectivity and development of a region but the construction of the roads and highways needs to take into account the sensitivity and fragility of the region as well. Environmental impact assessment should be compulsory before the construction of roads. Finally, environmental awareness needs to be propagated so that every individual can be empathetic and mindful of the dangers of environmental degradation. A coordinated effort will be essential between local cultures, local people, unions, and state governments to make this happen.