New Delhi: Concerned with glacier movement in the Himalayan region due to climate change, a Parliamentary Committee has recommended widening the network of high altitude meteorological and discharge stations equipped with modern technology to avoid damage after disasters such as glacial lake outburst floods (GLOF).
Agencies involved, however, have apprehension owing to the high altitude and inclement weather conditions.
"Of late, climate change has had a great impact on glacier movement in the Indian Himalayan region. In general, glaciers have been rapidly melting and retreating resulting in formation of a number of moraine dammed glacial lakes, posing numerous threats, particularly to the population and infrastructure located nearby due to their outbursts.
"Recognising and spotting of dangerous glacial lakes is very important so that all the stakeholders i.e. planners, scientists, academics, and the general public may evolve, adopt, and carry out suitable mitigation steps such as monitoring, early warning, evacuation and relief and rehabilitation," the 12th report of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Water Resources, headed by Dr Sanjay Jaiswal, tabled on August 5 said.
The Committee recommended that the Jal Shakti Ministry "make concerted efforts to set up and widen the network of high altitude meteorological and discharge stations" equipped with modern technology, including Synthetic Aperture Radar imagery to automatically detect changes in water bodies, including new lake formations, covering glaciers, glacial lakes and watersheds in the Indian Himalayan region.
Besides, it should also work in close collaboration with other agencies involved in glacial management and analysing the mountain hazards by sharing data with them, the report 'Flood Management in the country including international water treaties in the field of Water Resources Management with particular reference to treaty/agreement entered into with China, Pakistan and Bhutan' said.
Noting flood forecasting by Central Water Commission helps the authorities concerned to a large extent in framing a relief and mitigation response to riverine floods by providing advanced information, it said: "However, disasters such as flash floods, GLOF, and landslides, which are expected to become more common in the future due to climate change, constitute a threat in terms of assessing and forecasting their perilous impact in a prompt way.
However, the two main agencies involved, the CWC, under the Jal Shakti Ministry, and the India Meteorological Department, under the Earth Sciences Ministry, have apprehensions about the feasibility of ground stations at higher altitude and the loss of observation stations due to extreme weather events.
The CWC has no stations beyond 2,000 metres high in the Himalayas while most IMD weather stations there are below 2,500 metres.
GLOF occurs above the snowline and the CWC monitors 477 out of 2,028 glacial lakes (baseline mapping) and water bodies with the help of satellites images that it receives every 15 days or a month.
"Right now, the CWC is monitoring all glacial lakes that are 50Ha and above. It plans to soon monitor those that are 10 Ha and above," the CWC's Director, Flood Forecasting, Sharad Chandra told IANS.
In all, there are 1,741 monitoring stations of the CWC, including 331 flood forecasting stations but of these, there are very few up in the higher altitude.
In fact, an August 2018 analysis by South Asia Network for Dams, River and People (SANDRP) showed that there are just three flood forecasting and one level monitoring sites in whole of Jammu and Kashmir while there is no in-flow monitoring; there is just one flood forecasting and 16 level monitoring stations in Himachal Pradesh while Uttarakhand has 28 flood monitoring sites, including 4 flood forecasting, 23 level monitoring and one inflow monitoring site.
As per the World Meteorological Organisation guidelines as per nature of topography, India needs some 4,500 stations. Accordingly, Chandra said, more stations are expected soon but did not give out a number.
The IMD has a network of weather stations/automatic weather stations and rain gauges apart from its radars and satellite monitoring for the Himalayan region.
But, "there is an obvious bias for having weather stations in the valley... they are easier to access. In the Himalayas, it is important to have proper siting (i.e. choosing a proper location) for the weather station. It may get washed away in floods or landslides or if located very far away from human habitation, may suffer theft or damage from animals too," said Dr Anand Kumar Sharma, who recently retired as the regional head for the northern Indian states for the IMD.
Radars and satellite images do help but they need to be complimented with ground truth. Therefore, there is no denying that IMD needs to install more stations, Sharma said, but the locations need to be such that IMD has access for carrying out repairs or replacing the sensors.
In many remote locations, to avoid damage or theft to its costly instruments, the IMD has found out forest guest houses or a police outpost. But the best experiment has been initiated in Leh in coordination with the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP). "The ITBP has agreed and the IMD may soon take this forward," Sharma said.
In fact, with the ITBP present along the entire northern border in high altitude areas, this can be a best way forward for all states.