A sinking Himalayan town is highlighting the dangers posed to the region and the fragile ecology of the mountain range disturbed by a proliferation of dams, roads and military sites near the border with China.
The risks, flagged for decades by environmentalists and activists, came to the fore recently after land subsidence — gradual sinking due to displacement of underground earth layers — led to cracks in hundreds of homes in the tiny town of Joshimath, located at an altitude of over 6,000 feet (1,830 meters) in the northern hill state of Uttarakhand.
The high seismic risk zone is dotted with several picturesque towns and villages that are gateways to hiking trails, Hindu pilgrimage sites and strategic outposts in India’s lingering border dispute with China. The region is already vulnerable to frequent extreme weather events and landslides. A massive cloudburst in 2013 left more than 5,000 dead in the state.
Four hydropower projects with a combined projected cost of about $1.9 billion are currently under construction in Uttarakhand.