Sikkim flash floods: Death toll rises to 56, over 100 still missing | Top points

Sikkim flash floods: Death toll rises to 56, over 100 still missing | Top points

Sikkim flash floods: Death toll rises to 56, over 100 still missing | Top points

Sikkim, a state in northeastern India, witnessed a devastating flash flood on October 4, 2023, after a glacial lake burst due to heavy rainfall and an avalanche. The flood destroyed the Teesta III Dam, the state's biggest hydropower project, and caused widespread damage to infrastructure and lives. 

Here are some of the top points about the disaster:

- The flash flood was triggered by a cloudburst over the South Lhonak Lake, a moraine-dammed lake fed by the meltwater of the Lhonak glacier. The lake, located at an altitude of 17,100 feet, had expanded from 17 hectares in 1977 to 167.4 hectares in 2023 due to the glacier's retreat.

- The cloudburst caused the lake to breach its banks, releasing a massive amount of water that reached the Teesta III Dam at Chungthang at midnight. The dam operators tried to open the gates, but were too late. The flood destroyed the dam and its 1200 MW powerhouse in minutes.

- The water level in the Teesta River rose by up to 20 feet downstream, inundating many areas in Sikkim and West Bengal. Fifteen bridges across the state were washed away, and the north of the state, including the capital Gangtok, was cut off from the rest of India as parts of National Highway 10 collapsed.

- The flood also affected hundreds of villages along the Teesta River and Char areas in Bangladesh.

- The death toll from the disaster has risen to 56, with 27 confirmed deaths in Sikkim and 29 in West Bengal. Among the dead are eight Army personnel, who were part of a group of soldiers that went missing following the flood¹. Over 100 people are still missing or unaccounted for.

- The rescue and relief operations are being carried out by the Army, the Indo-Tibetan Border Police, the National Disaster Response Force, and the state authorities. More than 3,000 tourists who were stranded across the state have been evacuated. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has announced an ex-gratia of Rs 2 lakh each for the next of kin of those who lost their lives and Rs 50,000 each for those injured.

- The Sikkim government has ordered a probe into the substandard construction of the Teesta III Dam, which was blamed for aggravating the situation. Chief Minister Prem Singh Tamang said that the loss of lives and damage to properties downstream was due to the dam's collapse. He also said that an early warning system for glacial floods from the lake was being worked on before the disaster.

- The flash flood has raised concerns about the impact of climate change on the Himalayan glaciers and lakes, which are considered to be highly vulnerable to global warming. Experts have called for more research and monitoring of these water bodies, as well as better preparedness and mitigation measures for such events.

- The flash flood has also highlighted the need for a transboundary cooperation between India, China, Nepal, and Bangladesh on the management of the Teesta River basin, which spans across four countries. The Teesta River originates from the Tso Lhamo Lake in Tibet and flows through Sikkim and West Bengal before joining the Brahmaputra River in Bangladesh. The river is a source of livelihood, irrigation, and power generation for millions of people in these countries.

- However, the river also faces several challenges such as water scarcity, pollution, deforestation, erosion, and conflicts over water sharing. The Teesta Water Sharing Treaty between India and Bangladesh has been pending since 2011 due to disagreements over the allocation of water during the dry season. China and Nepal have also been developing hydropower projects on the upper reaches of the river without consulting the downstream countries.

- Experts have urged the four countries to adopt a holistic and integrated approach to the Teesta River basin management, taking into account the ecological, social, economic, and cultural aspects of the river. They have also suggested the establishment of a joint mechanism for information sharing, early warning,disaster response, and conflict resolution .
(1) Sikkim floods: Death toll rises to 27, state government to probe dam’s "substandard" construction.
(2) 2023 Sikkim flash floods - Wikipedia.
(3) Sikkim flash floods: Mortal remains of 8 Army personnel recovered; search on for 14 missing; death toll reaches 27.
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