Delhi begins evacuations with Yamuna crossing ‘danger mark’ as 40 killed in flooding across north India

Delhi’s Yamuna river crossed danger levels as rainfall warnings issued for 23 states

Stuti Mishra
in Delhi
Tuesday 11 July 2023 11:00 BST
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New Delhi lashed by heavy rain as more downfall predicted

India’s capital Delhi has evacuated hundreds of people after record-shattering torrential rains across northern India brought Yamuna above “danger mark” and prompted deadly landslides and floods in two states killing dozens.

The extreme rainfall that started over the weekend saw Delhi getting record single-day rain on Sunday, the highest since July 1982 and inundated roads and buildings with knee deep waters.

Videos and photos on social media show key roads and building, including the Delhi high court and the central Cannaught Place area, impacted by heavy rains.

The communities close to the Yamuna were moved to higher ground after the river breached the “danger mark” of 205m above the mean sea level on Monday evening, up from the average elevation of 230m.

The river currently stands at 206m with Delhi government setting up 16 control rooms to monitor the risks.

The mark was reached much earlier than authorities anticipated with intense rainfall continuing in large parts of north India.

The rains have prompted severe flooding and landslides in the hilly provinces of Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh, killing over 40 people in the last two days, according to local media reports.

Shocking visuals showed floods washing away villages and key highways in Uttarakhand and Himachal. Flood waters blocked the Indo-Tibet border road while contact with over a dozen border villages were lost, local media reports said.

The state has not witnessed such widespread heavy rains in over 50 years, authorities said.

The Amarnath Yatra, a pilgrimage that takes place every year in the Jammu and Kashmir region, was also suspended for the fourth consecutive day on Tuesday due to the closure of the Jammu-Srinagar national highway, leaving 15,000 pilgrims stranded in Jammu and other places.

Authorities said incessant rains have caused unprecedented damage to the highway, especially the stretch in Ramban district, forcing its closure for traffic on Monday.

At least 20 people have died in flash floods and other rain-related disasters in just one province of Himachal Pradesh – the northern state most severely impacted, according to officials.

Heavy rain and falling boulders killed four people and injured seven others in Uttarakhand last evening.

The Indian Army and the National Disaster Relief Force (NDRF) have stepped in to intensify the relief and rescue operations with over 300 people rescued on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, several cities in Punjab are underwater, with residents trapped in their homes without food or electricity, reported NDTV.

A red alert has been issued in Uttarakhand for more rains as the India Meteorological Department (IMD) predicted downpours to get heavier in the coming days, expanding to more areas in India.

Heavy to extreme rainfall warning has been issued for 23 states in the country, including the eastern parts of West Bengal, Sikkim, Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, and Meghalaya.

What is driving the extreme rainfall in India?

South Asia receives approximately 70-80 per cent of its annual rainfall during the monsoon season which starts in late June which can often get severe and cause flash floods. However, the intensity of the monsoon has been increasing in recent years with Bangladesh, India and Pakistan all witnessing record rainfall followed by extreme heat.

Climate scientists have in the past raised alarms over changing patterns of the monsoon that is making rainfall more erratic. Experts say increased global heating is leading to more rain falling in shorter periods of time, resulting in flash floods.

However, the current spell of rain is also driven by a rare interaction between three weather systems, according to Mahesh Palawat, a meteorologist at SkyMet weather services in New Delhi.

“The ongoing spell of extremely heavy rains is due to the alignment of three weather systems, Western Disturbance over Western Himalayas, cyclonic circulation over northwestern plains, and Axis of Monsoon trough running across Indo-Gangetic Plains,” Mr Palawat explained.

“This alignment is not happening for the first time and is the usual pattern during the Monsoon. However, global warming-led changes in Monsoon patterns have made a difference,” he said.

“There has been a constant rise in both land and sea temperatures, which has increased the capacity of the air to hold moisture for a longer time. Thus, the role of climate change in the increasing extreme weather events in India has been strengthening with each passing year.”

Several reports and research in the past have already established the impact of climate crisis on Indian monsoon patterns. However, it has also been tampering with atmospheric as well oceanic phenomena.

This year, the world is experienced record shattering temperatures with last week confirmed as the hottest year on record driven by the impact of the El Nino phenomenon, which is associated with increased warming, on top of the average global heating of 1.2C.

Experts said this unprecedented heat has further multiplied the implications for the region.

“There have been extreme weather events earlier as well, but 2023 has been a unique year,” Dr Raghu Murtugudde, Earth system scientist, said.

“Global warming is making a significant contribution but there are some other factors as well,” Mr Murtugudde explains, adding that El Nino, the record north Atlantic Ocean temperatures, exceptional warming in the Arabian sea in recent years were among the factors contributing to this deluge.

He also added that with wildfires being three times larger, more carbon was being released into the atmosphere, increasing greenhouse gases.

According to a recent Ministry of Earth Sciences report, overall monsoonal rainfall in India, which already leads to repeated flooding, is projected to become more intense in the future, and to affect larger areas driven by extreme heat and climate crisis.

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