WHAT HAS HAPPENED
In the early hours of October 4, a flash flood ravaged North Sikkim. The hurling waters washed away Sikkim’s largest hydropower project, the 1,200-MW Teesta III, escalating the damage downstream in districts of Gangtok, Namchi, and Pakyong. Thirty-three people have died and 105 are missing, according to the latest update by Sikkim state disaster management authority on the evening of October 8. The communication is down, roads and bridges have collapsed disconnecting large parts of Sikkim from its state capital Gangtok there is next to no air support. People are using handmade ziplines to provide relief to each other. The NDRF is not able to reach the affected areas there is a lot of confusion and misinformation.
The National Disaster Management Authority said the sudden surge was the combined effect of excess rainfall and a glacial lake outburst flood, or GLOF, at the South Lhonak glacial lake. GLOFs can occur when lakes formed due to melting glaciers breach their capacities, either due to sudden heavy rainfall or their natural embankments giving way after landslides or earthquakes.
But local activists and environmental experts point out that the damage caused by the glacial lake outburst flood was compounded by the presence of a string of dams in the Teesta river basin. The flood emanating from the lake destroyed the structures of three dams downstream, unleashing the water stored in their reservoirs, exacerbating flooding and damage. Activists say they had warned the authorities that building dams in an earthquake-prone region like Sikkim was dangerous. A 2020 report by the National Disaster Management Authority, while comparing potentially critical lakes in the Himalayan region, had noted that the “threat to hydropower is the highest in Sikkim”. Specifically, the government knew the dams built on the Teesta river were under threat from the South Lhonak lake.
The following are statements of Mayalmit Lepcha, member of Affected Citizens of Teesta who have been working in the region for the last five years.
"We had been raising our voices for a long time against building a series of dams along the Teesta. Teesta III had already stored tonnes of the water in its reservoir, so when the flash flood occurred, it came down with much more intense force."
"We had been raising the issue of melting glaciers at a high speed and that they might burst. We had said that if that happens, with the series of dams built in Teesta, it will create havoc."
“The developers then knew that they were making the dam in a seismologically active zone, and what damages it could cause, yet they continued. Today, the costs are borne by us, the indigenous communities living here.”
It is the deadliest flood in the area after the 1968 Sikkim floods when around 1000 people were killed.
WHAT HAVE BEEN OUR RESPONSE
Youth For Climate India along with our friends from Affected Citizens of Teesta, Youth For Himalaya, Himdhara, Let India Breathe, Climate Front Jammu formed a committee that mobilised support and brought visibility to the issue mainly discussing depth and politics of it using following actions:
An Online Press Conference on October 12th to bring national press visibility on the issue. We had invited Gyatso Lepacha, Affected Citizens of Teesta (from Sikkim), Sunder Negi, #NoMeansNo Campaign, Kinnaur (from Himachal Pradesh), Atul Sati, Joshimath Bachao Sangharsh Samiti (from Uttarakhand), Ebo Mili, Save Dibang (from Arunachal Pradesh) and Himanshu Thakkar from South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People (SANDRP). We have been joined by 30+ journalists from digital and got 15+ media stories in a lot of channels including National Herald, The Hindu, Article 14, Times of India, The Citizen, NDTV, The Wire. Here's a link to the press note.
A Tweet Storm on October 13th to raise concerns and bring ground narratives.
Solidarity Actions and Strikes across India on October 15th to bring visibility to the issue in different regions. One of digital media has covered one such action in Jammu