Flood Risk in Uttarakhand, India: Learning from the 2013 Disaster and Anticipating Emerging Threats

In June 2013, the Indian Himalayan state of Uttarakhand experienced devastating flooding within the headwaters of the Ganges river basin, resulting in at least 6000 deaths, and severe economic losses. It is within the aftermath of a disaster that policy directions may be reconsidered, and sound scientific evidence may prove most valuable in educating the public and decision-makers about current and emerging risks. The objectives of the proposed research are therefore 1) to deliver a first comprehensive analyses of the wide-ranging physical, social, and institutional factors contributing to the Uttarakhand flood disaster of 2013, and 2) integrate the new understanding and lessons learned from this disaster with an assessment of emerging flood-related threats to inform disaster risk reduction and climate adaptation measures. More specifically, key research questions will address how snowmelt combined with heavy rainfall contributed to the disaster, how deforestation and other land-use practices have influenced hydrological processes, how expansion of infrastructure and residential dwellings have altered the damage potential from this flood event, how the communities were able to anticipate, cope, and recover from this flood event, and how climate driven changes may bring about new flood related challenges. The research methodology is planned within 4 concise work packages, integrating new information derived from satellite image classification, observed and modelled climate and hydrological data, socio-economic analyses, and community surveys. The Swiss and Indian project partners bring together a strong background in studying climate related impacts, risk and disasters in mountain regions, with technical skills central to the requirements of this study. In addition, the Indian colleagues bring long-standing familiarity with the communities and the environmental challenges that are faced in Uttarakhand. Understanding and key findings from this study will inform future measures to reduce the risk from emerging flood related threats, not only in Uttarakhand, but more broadly throughout the monsoon affected Himalayan states of India.

Prof. Simon Keith Allen

Prof. Mal Suraj