PRESS RELEASE: Deadly north India floods largely man-made says ActionAid

Rapid deforestation and aggressive construction work along river banks in the northern Indian state of Uttarakhand are largely responsible for the current devastating floods, ActionAid said today.

The construction of more than 245 hydroelectric dam and mining projects along the 14 river valleys in the state within the last decade, has posed an enormous ecological threat.  Rivers have been diverted, hills blasted and forests destroyed, causing large-scale soil erosion and landslides. Debris from the construction has raised water levels, which contributed to flash flooding when monsoon rains came early last week.

ActionAid’s Regional Manager for Uttarakhand, Debabrat Patra said:

“This aggressive and unregulated construction work has been playing ecological havoc for years. It is not surprising that disaster finally struck.

“When you blast the mountainside and destroy the forest in a steep valley prone to landslides caused by heavy monsoon rains, what do you expect?

“Hundreds more villages lie in the shadow of these dams. With little forest left to hold the earth, another burst of heavy rain could be disastrous for the people living there.”

As soon as the disaster hit ActionAid began helping communities affected by the disaster with rescue and relief operations. The international aid agency will now scale up its work with the aim of reaching 10,000 people with shelter, medical supplies, food rations, emergency lighting, blankets and women’s hygiene products.

The Indian government has launched a region-wide evacuation for up to 100,000 people visiting the area for tourist season. However local people are concerned that once the tourists have been rescued, efforts to rehabilitate local people will slow down.

ActionAid is focusing its relief effort on the poorest, most vulnerable people including single women, orphans, Dalits, disabled and elderly people. ActionAid has been working in Uttarakhand for over ten years and child sponsors in Italy support 552 children in the area. All ActionAid sponsored children are safe, but the aid agency is concerned about the increased risk of diarrhea due to contaminated water and the impact that damaged school buildings will have on their education.

To help ActionAid’s emergency work donate to our Emergency Action Fund at www.actionaid.org.uk/emergency

For interviews and more information contact:

(In Delhi) Susan Thomas on susan.thomas@actionaid.org | +91 9560631119

(In London) Natalie Curtis +44 (0) 203 122 0641 | Natalie.Curtis@actionaid.org

Editors' notes

Presently, 42 hydro-power projects are in operation, 203 are under construction or clearance stage, while several others are at the conceptual stage according to the Performance Audit Report of Hydropower Development Through Private Sector Participation, Uttarakhand for the Year 2008-2009, by the Comptroller and Auditor General of India.  Source: http://www.cag.gov.in/html/cag_reports/uttranchal/rep_2009/pa_cont.htm

The Himalayan region, already ecologically fragile, is now even more vulnerable to extreme weather conditions triggered by climate change.