Ladakh. A Clear and Present Danger?

Ladakh, a region located in the Himalayas has a long history of flash floods, and debris flows from intense storms which seem to have increased in frequency in the past decade.

A booming tourism industry, economic development, associated population growth, and limited governmental response to these factors have led to uncontrolled development and construction in hazardous locations have made the region increasingly prone to such disasters.

The current situation in Ladakh is alarming and presents a clear and present danger.

Ladakh experienced a recent flash flood, which was preceded by an even deadlier event in 2010. For example, retention walls being built along streams, such as the Sabu Stream in Choglamsar, to hold back the flood waters of the next cloudburst will likely only increase vulnerability by giving residents a false sense of security. A 2015 visit by the researchers to Ladakh revealed many new structures being located in extremely dangerous locations demonstrating the need for greater oversight of urban developments.

Arguably, some parts of this community and others should be relocated— but critical underlying questions are to where do they move and what might be the unexpected negative impacts?Regardless, all construction should be developed and performed to code, and planning about hazard safety should be enforced as new homes and hotels are built.

Thus the increasing vulnerability in Ladakh should be addressed with sound disaster governance strategies that are proactive, rather than reactionary.

This summary is based on a scientific briefing A clear and present danger: Ladakh’s increasing vulnerability to flash floods and debris flows.

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