A woman up to her waist in water in a flooded street in Chennai during a downpour.

Chennai’s floods: the city has learned nothing from the past – here’s what it can do

case study of man made disasters in india

PhD Candidate in Disaster Risk Reduction, Edinburgh Napier University

Disclosure statement

Anitha Karthik does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

Edinburgh Napier University provides funding as a member of The Conversation UK.

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November 2021 was a devastating month for flooding in the city of Chennai, the capital of Tamil Nadu in southern India. With 1,000mm of rainfall in just four weeks, these were the worst rains since the devastating floods of 2015 when it poured for 22 out of 30 days in December, setting a record of 1,049mm.

Then , as now , the flooding in Chennai was described as a man-made disaster, despite occurring during a storm called Cyclone Nivar . On both occasions, death, disruption and destruction was the result. India has faced more than 300 weather events in the last two decades, resulting in over 79,000 deaths.

Tamil Nadu has long been known for its susceptibility to a long list of natural disasters: cyclones, storm surges, coastal flooding, torrential rainfall, earthquakes and tsunamis. India accounts for 24% of all disasters in Asia and Chennai ranks seventh in the list of India’s most vulnerable districts to extreme flooding and cyclones.

The southern state’s 1,076km of coastline makes up more than 13% of the total Indian coastline, bordered by the Bay of Bengal in the east, the Indian Ocean in the south and the Arabian Sea in the west.

Cyclones need a lot of heat (at least 26°C) to form, and warm tropical sea beds provide this energy. The Bay of Bengal has a deep layer of warm water, which fuels the rapid formation of cyclones that gather force within a short period of time.

Since the catastrophic 2004 Boxing Day tsunami which killed 10,000 people in Tamil Nadu, there have been 14 cyclones and regular flooding in this area. Yet the preparation and response to these extreme events have been woefully inadequate over the last 15 years.

Why has nothing changed?

The Indian Meteorological Department issued a red alert warning on November 12 2021. But 48 hours later Chennai had once again ground to a standstill due to heavy rainfall triggered by the north-east monsoon season which occurs between October-December annually.

Seventeen deaths were recorded, and power outages, submerged dams and underpasses hampered movement around the city, including rescue operations by the National Disaster Risk Force (NDRF).

As Tamil Nadu’s tech-hub “ smart city ”, Chennai has attracted newcomers with the prospect of good jobs, housing and amenities, swelling its population to just over 11m people . This has put even more pressure on existing infrastructure and services.

Despite the continuous development and increasing population, nothing in the city’s disaster response has changed over the last 16 years, even after the devastating 2015 floods. Officials failed to take preventive measures and released dam water without announcement, over-filling the Chembarambakkam reservoir flooding the nearby areas. The city’s densely packed housing has only made preparation for any future extreme weather events more difficult.

Gridlocked systems

Most of Chennai’s problems revolve around inadequate and poorly managed infrastructure, resulting in leaks, blocked drains and over-burdened sewage systems – problems that have existed in Chennai for decades. Bad planning is also an issue in the city, where the state government has allowed building and development on marshlands and wetlands which would normally have soaked up floodwater.

The Cooum, which flows through the city, has slowly become a highly polluted, toxic river full of sewage. During the 2015 Chennai floods, it quickly became an open sewer as the city’s drains overflowed and the water submerged sewage systems.

One of the greatest problems the city faces is plastic pollution. Around 3.4 million tonnes of plastic waste are generated by India each year. Chennai ranks second in the country for plastic waste, producing 429 tonnes a day. The plastic clogs up drains and sewers so that during heavy rainfall floodwater has nowhere to go, resulting in waterlogged streets.

Failure of policies and inadequate infrastructure coupled with excessive bureaucracy and inaction mean that every time there are heavy rains or storms, Chennai’s citizens face disruption, displacement and tragedy as they did in November. It is essential that the city significantly reduces its plastic pollution, invests in proper floodwater drainage and continually re-assesses the changing risks and vulnerabilities to future flood scenarios.

Making the right decisions and implementing them may not be a straightforward process in a country like India because of widespread poverty, lack of planning, coordination and proper channelling of funding. Perhaps cities like Chennai need to adopt alternative approaches such as community-based flood management programmes .

This would encourage communities to take responsibility and action, empowering the very people whom the flooding affects most. It would also help to dispel the dangerous sense of inevitability that pervades the city about flooding.

There are specific reasons Chennai floods so easily, but they can be addressed. Awareness of how plastic pollution contributes to the problem and what can be done about it at a local level would be a good place to start.

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India floods: a man-made disaster

T he terrible floods in India's tiny north Himalayan state of Uttarakhand , which killed more than 1,000 people, left 70,000 stranded for days and destroyed livelihoods, have been officially termed a natural calamity caused by cloudbursts and unprecedented heavy monsoon rainfall.

However, the true causes of the epic tragedy lie in the grievous damage recently wrought on the region's ecology by the runaway growth of tourism, unchecked proliferation of roads, hotels, shops and multistory housing in ecologically fragile areas, and above all mushrooming hydroelectricity dams that disrupt water balances. Underlying the disaster are multiple governance failures, too.

These man-made factors turned an extreme weather event into a social catastrophe. True, the region experienced heavy rainfall of 340-370mm within 24 hours on June 16-17, leading to flash floods. But such precipitation isn't unprecedented. Uttarakhand has recorded single-day rainfall in excess of 400mm several times, including 450mm in 1995 and 900mm in 1965. Cloudbursts, floods and rapid swelling of fast-flowing rivers aren't uncommon.

But this time the floodwaters, laden with tens of thousands of tonnes of silt, boulders and debris from dam construction, found no outlet. The routes they took in the past, including ravines and streams, were blocked with sand and rocks. The waters inundated scores of towns and villages, submerging some buildings under several feet of mud, smothering life.

Aggravating the devastation were two downpours of water and rocks from the higher mountain ranges, in all probability caused by glacier lake outburst floods (GLOFs), which deluged the Kedarnath temple, a major Hindu pilgrimage centre. GLOFs, or the explosive bursting of glacier lakes, are thought to be a consequence of human-induced climate change, which is causing rapid melting of glaciers in the Himalayas, themselves warming at twice the global rate.

Such a massive loss of life could have been greatly reduced if an early warning system, effective evacuation plans and a responsive disaster management system were in place. They weren't. In fact, as the comptroller and auditor general pointed out in April, the Uttarakhand Disaster Management Authority, formed in October 2007, has never met or formulated "rules, regulations, polices or guidelines". Modestly priced radar-based technology to forecast cloudbursts would have saved lives. But it wasn't installed. Nor were emergency evacuation plans drawn up.

There was local-level governance failure, too. Haphazard, unregulated construction of roads and bridges was allowed on crumbling, landslide-prone ridges and steep slopes, ignoring the region's fragile geology and high earthquake vulnerability. Forests were destroyed on a large scale. Hundreds of buildings were constructed in the flood plains of rivers, their "natural" terrain, which should be no-go areas. Riverbeds were recklessly mined for sand. As construction debris accumulated, land contours and flows of streams and rivers changed.

Indiscriminate building of hydroelectric dams was the worst culprit. These involve drilling huge tunnels in the hills by blasting rocks, placing enormous turbines in the tunnels, destroying soil-binding vegetation to build water channels and other infrastructure, laying transmission lines and carelessly dumping excavated muck. Many dams have been built on the same river so close to one another that they leave no scope for its regeneration.

Dams steal water from local people. They alter the hydrological cycle and natural course of rivers. Uttarakhand's 70 completed large dams have diverted more than 640km, equivalent to half the length of its major rivers. They have profoundly destabilised its ecology. Yet another 680 dams are reportedly in various stages of commissioning, construction or planning, mainly by private companies, which would be largely unaccountable.

A 2009 CAG report complained that the government was "pursuing hydro-power projects indiscriminately", ignoring the damaging "cumulative effect" of multiple run-of-the river dams. Technically, India's environment ministry follows an environmental impact assessment process, but that's badly compromised by the Indian elite's insatiable appetite for electricity and promoters' pressure.

When I was on the expert appraisal committee (EAC) on river valley projects in the 1990s, none of the dozens of projects we examined had adequate documentation on the impact on forests, wildlife, hydrology or rehabilitation. All were rejected. The present EAC has approved all 262 projects placed before it over six years, without seriously evaluating their impact or the rivers' carrying capacity. This is a recipe for yet more Uttarakhands.

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Accidents in Mumbai 2014 ― 2018

An interactive visualisation.

This web-exhibit should be cited as the following: Kant, V., & Kashyap, A. (2021). Accidents in Mumbai 2014-2018. HFSS Studios. Unpublished Web-Exhibit. Retrieved from https://homepages.iitb.ac.in/~vivek.kant/indian-disasters/mumbai/ The data for this web-exhibit should be cited as the following: Kant, V., Kushwaha, V., & Kashyap, A. (2021). Accidents in Mumbai 2014-2018 [unpublished data set]. HFSS Studios. Retrieved from https://homepages.iitb.ac.in/~vivek.kant/indian-disasters/mumbai/datasheet.xlsx (The dataset can be downloaded here )

"What is the life of an urban Indian worth?"

This may sound as an absurd question but it brings to fore an important challenge that is existing in the shadows of large cities in India. People often die from causes such as caving in of house roofs during rains, electrocution due to naked electric lines in slums, gas cylinders bursting in populated areas, among many other hazards that are interwoven in the life of poor urbanites. Living in dense cities in India is living in danger; this danger is a part of everyday existence. The malise is more insidious because it is accepted as part of everyday modern living. In other words, accidents that result in loss of lives are trivial and do not capture the public conscience.

We believe that these accidents are non-trivial and show the safety profile of the city. As a result, we have taken up the task of mapping these accidents, which typically are depicted on the backpages of newspapers. We aim to show that these accidents resulting in death and injuries have a story that needs to be told. Therefore, we started with this case study of charting out the accidents in Mumbai from the years 2014-2018 (half a decade), as reported in public newspapers. We focussed on public reporting of accidents that tells us the hidden loss of lives. While these may be depicted as trivial in public consumption of information, it also shows a safety profile of a city that needs sensitization and intervention towards the lives of urbanite Indians.

As a city of over 20 million people, Mumbai witnesses all kinds of disasters. These include natural as well as human made disasters, resulting in loss of lives on a daily basis. While these accidents have been well documented and received public recognition, there are a many accidents that do not make a dent in the public conscience. This case study highlights deaths and injuries that occur at commercial and residential sites in Mumbai between the years 2014 to 2018.

All the data for this case study has been compiled from daily reports from a single newspaper, The Times of India, Mumbai Edition ( Click here to access the data source). It depicts accidents and injuries related to bizarre mundane life events which include a man and a 10-year old boy dying due to a wall collapse or more dramatic events such as ESIC Hospital fire in Kamgar. We have explicitly avoided traffic related accidents as these are already in the public awareness.

In this present case study, we have included visualisations that depict a range of insights. These include deaths across sectors such as commercial, factory, or residential, among others. The visualisations also include deaths and injuries throughout the years in relation to the days, months and quarters. The goal of our case study is data exposition for our readers, rather than providing an explanation about the causal basis for the injuries and accidents. To put it succinctly, we aim to reveal rather than explain.

We hope that this revelation will sensitise the public so that they demand a more detailed understanding and reduction in such accidents which can easily be prevented, saving many lives.

Description of the Legend

There are three legends primarily used to distinguish the dataset. The distinctions are made through time of the accident (shown in shades of orange for years and green for months), sector as classified by the newspaper (multi-coloured), and the reason for the accident (shown in shades of red for accidents involving fire and blue for other accidents).

Time labels have date, month and year wise distinctions; sector labels have Authority negligence, Commercial, Construction, Factory and Residential distinctions; reason labels have Building, Fire, Gas cylinder, Malfunction of machines and Negligence related accidents. These labels aid in recognising patterns and help assess the risks associated with the conditions in different times and areas. Labels for the sectors, as mentioned earlier, have been identified by the selected newspaper, labels for the reason have been identified as part of the research.

It is imperative to keep in mind that newspapers are aimed towrds a general audience and therefore may show some ambiguity in sector-wise labelling. These are reflected through variances in the the factors attributed in the reportage. For example, an incident involving a wall collapse in a market place can be labelled as both a commercial and construction accident. To ensure such miscrepencies do not creep into the dataset, the label for reason for the accident was created. The data was thoroughly cleaned and cross-checked with the original reports, and we adhered to the reasons as was reported in the newspapers.

The following graphs show different trends and insights related to deaths and injuries. These graphs are interactive in nature. We invite our readers to interact with them and try to understand the various challenges related to understanding the safety profile of Mumbai as regularly captured through newspapers.

Each nodal point can be interacted with individually. The date, number of casualties and any other relevant information are mentioned in the tool-tip. In addition, for further information, the view data button can be clicked, which will list all recorded facts and references related to the incident in question.

Geographical Analysis of deaths and injuries

Our first visualisation below is a map of the accidents that occured between 2014 and 2018. The deaths and injuries have been marked, with the size of the circles represents the number of casualties involved, and the colour represents the time at which the incident took place.

In the maps below, the legends refer to the discrete number of deaths and injuries. For example, the clickable circle with the number 9 next to it demarcates all deaths and injuries in which a total of 9 people died or were injured. The map also reveals a greater number of dark circles, indicating that a larger percentage of accidents with casualties occurred towards the latter end of our dataset. This is more clearly illustrated in the Day-wise Analysis section of this case study.

Relationship between Deaths and Injuries

The graph Deaths vs Injuries (Reason) compares the number of people dying to those getting injured. The reason we are comparing deaths to the injuries is to get an insight into the type of incidents that are high priority and are in immediate need of an intervention. The number of deaths is on the X-axis, and the number of injuries is on the Y-axis. In an ideal scenario, we would prefer all the data points to be located towards the bottom left of the graph. However, the graph shows that the deaths caused by Negligence* is disproportionately high. This indicates that this is an issue that is both dangerous and high priority. On the other hand, Gas cylinder related fires results in a higher percentage of injuries as compared to deaths, meaning there are more survivors from such accidents.

*The concept of negligence may be serving as an umbrella term for unique underlying issues that may not have been fully investigated and explicated yet. This is because newspaper reportage involves generic categories and a more common sense view of the matter as opposed to insights gained from scientifically rigorous analysis based on human factors.

The graph Deaths vs Injuries (Sector) is also a comparison between deaths and injuries, with the sector classified by the newspaper. Similar to the previous graph, an ideal scenario would have had all the circles towards the bottom left of the graph. However, we see that the Construction sector is to the far right and is much lower than all sectors but three. This is indicative of the higher risks involved in working in the construction sector, which has a higher proportion of deaths as compared to injuries, which is starkly different from the Commercial sector, which has a higher proportion of injuries as compared to deaths.

Relationship between Reasons and Sectors

The graphs “Reason-wise breakdown of Sectors” and “Sector-wise breakdown of Reasons” shows the relationship between the sectors and the reasons attributed to the accidents (newspaper-identified).

The graph “Reason-wise breakdown of Sectors”, shows clearly that accidents related to buildings and fires result in the maximum number of casualties, both for deaths (60%) and injuries (70%). The problem resonates with the generic problems in the urban centres where construction related deaths and spread of fire causes havoc. The graph also indicates that necessary interventions are necessary to reduce deaths and injuries in Mumbai.

From “Sector-wise breakdown of Reasons”, the residential sectors show a marked influence due to the presence of gas-cylinder related accidents (number of injuries is more than the number of deaths in this sector). Improving gas-cylinder usage in urban centres like Mumbai is needed for reducing the number of casualties. In general, fires act as a major reason for casualties in the Commercial, Factory and Residential Sectors (47%), making it an area in immediate need for intervention to aid in the reduction of casualties.

Sector-wise breakdown

The accidents, derived from the dataset, have been classified into five categories: Authority Negligence, Commercial, Construction, Factory and Residential. Those accidents that do not fall under any of these categories, are classified under Miscellaneous. The deaths per category have been shown to allow comparison between the sectors and the deaths across the years. The legend lists the years that the accidents were recorded. The casualties per year for each of the graphs can be seen by selecting the year from the legend.

As is seen in the graph (deaths vs sectors), there is no particular sector that shows the majority of the deaths, except construction. In this sector, the number of deaths are much higher than expected. While other sectors have recorded many deaths, it is important to recognise a sector in which there are known dangers still witnesses casualties in such large numbers; construction accidents remain the major cause of loss of lives. With Mumbai as a rapidly emerging city with ongoing urban renewal construction safety still remains a major priority to be addressed.

In this graph (injuries vs. sectors) we identify the injuries per sector to show that injuries outnumber the deaths. The commercial sector shows that the number of injuries is almost double to that of the number of deaths. However, in the construction sector, the proportion of deaths in relation to the injuries is quite high. In contrast, in the commercial sector, the proportion of deaths in relation to the injuries is much lower than that of construction, indicating that this might be a relatively safer sector. This also shows that in Mumbai as a metropolitan city, there may be a need for safety intervention in the construction sector in general.

To further comprehend the dangers of working the various sectors*, we mapped the casualties in the various sectors per month using treemaps. The area of the rectangle indicates the number of injuries for that particular month. The shade of blue indicates the number of deaths in the sector (the darker the shade, more are the deaths). As is seen clearly, construction (top right corner) is the only sector in which there is an association between the casualties from one month to another. The number of injuries in this sector is highest in the month of July, when the monsoon season starts. While the number of injuries decreases for the month of August, the number of deaths increases. This directly points to the lack of safe working conditions of the labourers in the construction sector during the expected seasonal rains.

*There are a few particular accidents that present a spike in the data resulting in certain sectors being overly represented due to this short duration between 2014 and 2018. For example, accidents such as the fire at ESIC Kamgar Hospital increased the number of injuries in the commercial sector in December, 2018 or the fire at a factory in Dombivli in May, 2016, accounted for more than a third of factory related injuries.

The following graph (Death vs Injuries by Months) helps illustrate the various trends across the newspaper categorised sectors clearly. The left axis represents the absolute number of deaths, the right axis represents the absolute number of injuries, and the bottom axis is labelled numerically with each number representing a month ordinally. The axis to the right is scaled up five times. This helps visualise the ratio of deaths to injuries in each month per sector. As the monsoon months begin, accidents due to Authority Negligence, the Construction and Residential sector note an increase in casualties. It is striking that in all three sectors, there exists a higher proportion of deaths when compared with the injuries. It is a lot more apparent in the construction sector, where there is a sharp spike in casualties in the month of July, and the ratio of deaths to injuries increases for the month of August.

Month-wise Breakdown

The data can be broken down month-wise. This gives a histogram that indicates which of the months have a higher proclivity towards accidents and injuries. In the following graphs, the legend lists the sectors, which can be seen separately upon selecting them from the legend. The reason for listing month-wise is to observe developing monthly trends which result in casualties. For example, the monsoon months (June-September)result in a higher number of casualties (death and injuries)*.

*In the graph showing injuries per month, the trend is not apparent because there have been individual accidents that have contributed towards a higher number of injuries, for example, as discussed earlier, the Chemical factory fire in Dombivli in May, 2016 or ESIC Hospital fire in Kamgar in December, 2018.

Year-wise Breakdown

The following graphs use years as the major separator. July is marked in green to showcase the onset of the monsoon season in India. The legend lists the months, which makes it possible to check for month-wise variation in casualties across the years. Many of the deaths in 2017 and 2018 were the result of some major accidents such as the Elphinstone Bridge collapse and ESIC Kamgar Hospital fire, which took many lives. Efforts should first be directed at minimising the loss of lives in such major accidents, by educating the public about accident etiquettes and incident awareness and ensuring public safety by enabling smooth functioning of public authorities responsible for prevention, mitigation and preparedness.

Day-wise Breakdown

When using the individual days as separators, there appears to be a bit of a pattern, with many accidents occurring towards the end of the month in 2014-15 and 2017-18, while 2016 seems to be an outlier. Further analysis of more years may yield a more representative pattern. The days are listed in the legend, from 1 to 31, coloured in different shades of green. The darker the green, the later in the month the accident occured.

As was seen earlier, in "Death through the years", 2017 and 2018 are prominent in this visualisation. It is interesting to note the frequency of accidents in the second half of December for these two years.

A similar trend of accidents increasing towards the second half of the month can be observed in the graph "Injuries through the Years". Two major accidents are prominent, the Dombivli Factory fire in May 2016 and the ESIC Kamgar Hospital fire in December 2019 contributed to nearly 25% of the injuries in the past five years. This may be indicative of a browser trend that needs to be investigated further.

Variances and Anomalies

The following graphs display the 5-point summary of the dataset, in quartiles. The box-and-whiskers plots are primarily used to show the shape of a distribution, its central value and its variability. This variability is of central interest to us as it helps to illustrate how the different casualties in various sectors are distributed in relation to the anomalies. These anomalies can be easily identified by noting whether the dots representing the sectors lie within the expected error bars or beyond it.

For example, month-wise data for the variances and anomalies (Death and Injuries vs Sectors by Month) across the sectors is affected by seasonal changes. As discussed earlier, monsoons have a huge impact on the construction sector in such a grave manner that it goes beyond the accepted level of variances. This is indicative of the abnormally high casualty rates for this sector during the monsoon months. In the same graph, we also notice in September, Authority Negligence is beyond the top error bar. This is primarily due to the bridge collapse at Elphinstone Road in September of 2017. A similar phenomenon is visible in the Factory sector in May for injuries, with the Dombivli factory fire in May 2016 contributing as a prime factor for increase in casualties.

It is important to keep in mind that the dataset is gleaned from a national daily newspaper for a few years. Therefore, it may have missed out a few accidents. Nevertheless, the aim is to show that the safety profile of Mumbai involves a number of deaths that do not make headlines but are limited to backpages of a newspaper. The focus of this project is to bring to light accidents that do not make it to the headlines, for lack of sensationality, or for lack of sensitivity to the loss of human life. The hope is that this website would bring many trends and patterns, that are generally ignored, to the foreground, and help Indians citizens and policymakers to better prepare and reduce the loss of lives and livelihoods.

case study of man made disasters in india

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Northeast India flood: Man-made disaster worsened by climate change


Scrap-metal trader MD Alam was sleeping in his riverside cabin along the Teesta River in northeast India on Oct. 4 when he received an urgent phone call.

“It seems a dam in Sikkim has breached. A huge flood is coming down,” his friend warned. 

The South Lhonak glacial lake in the Himalayan region of northern Sikkim near China and Nepal experienced a sudden and significant overflow last week for reasons still under investigation. 

The breach caused a flash flood in the Teesta River, destroying a major dam in Chungthang, 60 kilometers (37 miles) downstream, and affecting parts of Sikkim and West Bengal.

The river water level rose by 8-18 meters, the Central Water Commission said. The 60-meter dam had a capacity equivalent to over 2,000 Olympic pools, but the exact water level at the time is unclear.


Hundreds of houses, roads and bridges were washed away. At least 75 people are confirmed dead, according to Indian authorities, while more than a hundred are still missing. Alam’s family was among those affected. 

“I managed to save only my family. I could not take out a single thing,” Alam told Radio Free Asia on Tuesday.

He added that while all 12 of his family members were safe, three of their houses by the river were swept away, along with all their belongings.

A week after the flooding, debris from the surge still littered the roof of his recently constructed two-story house, the only standing building in the vicinity.

“Everything I have worked for and owned was gone within a minute,” the 55-year-old patriarch lamented. 

A few minutes later, Alam received a call that his daughter’s father-in-law in another flood-hit village had died.

“I don’t know how to feel or express my feelings. The river increases yearly, but it was something else this time,” he said as he hurried off.


Triggered by glacial lake outburst 

Originating from the Eastern Himalayan glaciers, the 414-kilometer-long Teesta River meanders through West Bengal and parts of Bangladesh before joining the grand Brahmaputra River. 

South Lhonak, at 5,200 meters (17,060 feet), is one of the largest and fastest-growing glacial water reservoirs that feed into the Teesta.

The actual reason for the glacier lake outburst is unknown, but officials suspect the exceptional rainfall or a 6.2 magnitude earthquake that hit neighboring Nepal the preceding Tuesday to be the culprits.

The Sikkim government said this week that “a thorough inquiry by a multidisciplinary team of experts will be initiated by the State government once the situation stabilizes.”

India’s National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) blamed intense rainfall for the glacial lake outburst flood (GLOF) – which happens when the icy reservoir’s natural barriers are compromised, likely due to the permafrost thaw. 

Such breaches can be precipitated by landslides, earthquakes or extreme rainfall, leading to a high-altitude “tsunami.” 


In recent years, researchers and government officials noted the increasing water levels in South Lhonak due to the melting glaciers caused by global warming, with experts singling it out as “high risk” and “critical.”

Studies have shown South Lhonak increased almost ten times from 17 hectares in 1977 to 167 hectares just before the burst. Last week, the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) released a satellite study saying about 105 hectares of water area was drained out after Oct. 4.

Since the floods, schools and universities have been closed as clean-up and relief operations continue, while land access and mobile connectivity in many areas remain cut off. State-established relief camps now house thousands of affected individuals.

Last year, the most senior science bureaucrat in Sikkim emphasized the need for an early warning system at glacier lakes like South Lhonak, where it was installed in September but was not fully operational when the floods hit.


Man-made disaster

Anit Thapa, chief executive of the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration, the highest local authority in West Bengal state, said this was “the first time Teesta has been this disastrous.”

“Many people had literally five seconds to leave their homes,” he told RFA in Teesta Bazaar. “In some areas, whole villages have been washed away … The damages are unsurmountable.”

Apart from dams, there were also encroachment of the riverbeds for roads and settlements, obstructing the water flow, he said, adding the disaster was “human induced.”

“Basically, Teesta River is taking its natural course. We built dams and other infrastructures and changed the natural flow of Teesta. Now it’s claiming it back,” Thapa said.


Sikkim’s chief minister told Indian media the disaster was due to sub-standard Chungthang dam construction for the 1200-megawatt hydroelectric project.

Locals and experts say the government knows well about the dangers of building hydropower dams in the Himalayan region with tectonic activity, melting glaciers and extreme rain.

In 2021, India’s Department of Water Resources warned of South Lhonak Lake’s threat to hydropower projects, with a 2020 NDMA report highlighting Sikkim as the most at risk.

“This disaster was foreseeable,” said Gyatso Lepcha, the general secretary of the indigenous group, Affected Citizens of Teesta, adding the damage was exacerbated by dam construction. Despite warnings, Sikkim and West Bengal governments continue developing hydropower dams on Teesta, with at least 47 projects in different development stages currently.

Vimal Khawas, a professor at New Delhi-based Jawaharlal Nehru University, said hydropower has played a role in maximizing the disaster.

“Humans have heavily encroached upon the riverbed areas of upper Teesta basin,” he said. “When events like cloud burst, GLOF and dam burst happen, disaster is the only consequence. Even if cloud burst and GLOF are natural, the resultant disaster is 100% human made.”


GLOF, a severe threat

Between 2000 and 2016, Himalayan glaciers lost about 8 billion tons of ice annually, mainly due to climate change.

Last year, a report from India’s earth sciences ministry said the mean retreat rate of the Hindu Kush Himalayan glaciers was 14.9-15.1 meters per annum, with 20.2-19.7 meters per annum in the Brahmaputra river basins.

According to a report in June from Kathmandu-based International Center for Integrated Mountain Development, Himalayan glaciers could lose 80% of their volume by the end of this century. 

“Tragically, the River Teesta is the latest in a series of devastating flash floods we’ve seen this monsoon that shows that the Hindu Kush Himalaya, on which a quarter of humanity relies for freshwater, food and energy, is a region on the brink,” Izabella Koziell, deputy director general of ICIMOD, told RFA on Thursday.

“Climate change is flipping the mountains and glaciers here from being reliable water sources into hotspots of hazard, with glaciers melting at unprecedented rates, snow and rainfall patterns becoming erratic and extreme and permafrost that provides stability to steep mountain slopes thawing.”


According to scientists, the mountain regions of Asia are warming at twice the global average.

“GLOF risks are set to rise—and we urgently need to think beyond one lake to ensure every dangerous lake in this region has early warning systems for those downstream,” said Koziell.

“But also, accelerated glacier melt means this region is set to reach ‘peak water’ in 2050. That is just 17 years away. After which water supplies will decline, driving huge uncertainty for communities here.

“It is clear that, as well as these hazards, we now stand on the cusp of systemic disruption to food, water and energy security in one of the most populous regions in the world,” she said.

Edited by Taejun Kang and Elaine Chan.

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The Bhopal disaster and its aftermath: a review

Edward broughton.

1 Columbia University, Mailman School of Public Health, 600 W 168th St. New York, NY 10032 USA

This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License ( http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0 ), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

On December 3 1984, more than 40 tons of methyl isocyanate gas leaked from a pesticide plant in Bhopal, India, immediately killing at least 3,800 people and causing significant morbidity and premature death for many thousands more. The company involved in what became the worst industrial accident in history immediately tried to dissociate itself from legal responsibility. Eventually it reached a settlement with the Indian Government through mediation of that country's Supreme Court and accepted moral responsibility. It paid $470 million in compensation, a relatively small amount of based on significant underestimations of the long-term health consequences of exposure and the number of people exposed. The disaster indicated a need for enforceable international standards for environmental safety, preventative strategies to avoid similar accidents and industrial disaster preparedness.

Since the disaster, India has experienced rapid industrialization. While some positive changes in government policy and behavior of a few industries have taken place, major threats to the environment from rapid and poorly regulated industrial growth remain. Widespread environmental degradation with significant adverse human health consequences continues to occur throughout India.

December 2004 marked the twentieth anniversary of the massive toxic gas leak from Union Carbide Corporation's chemical plant in Bhopal in the state of Madhya Pradesh, India that killed more than 3,800 people. This review examines the health effects of exposure to the disaster, the legal response, the lessons learned and whether or not these are put into practice in India in terms of industrial development, environmental management and public health.

In the 1970s, the Indian government initiated policies to encourage foreign companies to invest in local industry. Union Carbide Corporation (UCC) was asked to build a plant for the manufacture of Sevin, a pesticide commonly used throughout Asia. As part of the deal, India's government insisted that a significant percentage of the investment come from local shareholders. The government itself had a 22% stake in the company's subsidiary, Union Carbide India Limited (UCIL) [ 1 ]. The company built the plant in Bhopal because of its central location and access to transport infrastructure. The specific site within the city was zoned for light industrial and commercial use, not for hazardous industry. The plant was initially approved only for formulation of pesticides from component chemicals, such as MIC imported from the parent company, in relatively small quantities. However, pressure from competition in the chemical industry led UCIL to implement "backward integration" – the manufacture of raw materials and intermediate products for formulation of the final product within one facility. This was inherently a more sophisticated and hazardous process [ 2 ].

In 1984, the plant was manufacturing Sevin at one quarter of its production capacity due to decreased demand for pesticides. Widespread crop failures and famine on the subcontinent in the 1980s led to increased indebtedness and decreased capital for farmers to invest in pesticides. Local managers were directed to close the plant and prepare it for sale in July 1984 due to decreased profitability [ 3 ]. When no ready buyer was found, UCIL made plans to dismantle key production units of the facility for shipment to another developing country. In the meantime, the facility continued to operate with safety equipment and procedures far below the standards found in its sister plant in Institute, West Virginia. The local government was aware of safety problems but was reticent to place heavy industrial safety and pollution control burdens on the struggling industry because it feared the economic effects of the loss of such a large employer [ 3 ].

At 11.00 PM on December 2 1984, while most of the one million residents of Bhopal slept, an operator at the plant noticed a small leak of methyl isocyanate (MIC) gas and increasing pressure inside a storage tank. The vent-gas scrubber, a safety device designer to neutralize toxic discharge from the MIC system, had been turned off three weeks prior [ 3 ]. Apparently a faulty valve had allowed one ton of water for cleaning internal pipes to mix with forty tons of MIC [ 1 ]. A 30 ton refrigeration unit that normally served as a safety component to cool the MIC storage tank had been drained of its coolant for use in another part of the plant [ 3 ]. Pressure and heat from the vigorous exothermic reaction in the tank continued to build. The gas flare safety system was out of action and had been for three months. At around 1.00 AM, December 3, loud rumbling reverberated around the plant as a safety valve gave way sending a plume of MIC gas into the early morning air [ 4 ]. Within hours, the streets of Bhopal were littered with human corpses and the carcasses of buffaloes, cows, dogs and birds. An estimated 3,800 people died immediately, mostly in the poor slum colony adjacent to the UCC plant [ 1 , 5 ]. Local hospitals were soon overwhelmed with the injured, a crisis further compounded by a lack of knowledge of exactly what gas was involved and what its effects were [ 1 ]. It became one of the worst chemical disasters in history and the name Bhopal became synonymous with industrial catastrophe [ 5 ].

Estimates of the number of people killed in the first few days by the plume from the UCC plant run as high as 10,000, with 15,000 to 20,000 premature deaths reportedly occurring in the subsequent two decades [ 6 ]. The Indian government reported that more than half a million people were exposed to the gas [ 7 ]. Several epidemiological studies conducted soon after the accident showed significant morbidity and increased mortality in the exposed population. Table ​ Table1. 1 . summarizes early and late effects on health. These data are likely to under-represent the true extent of adverse health effects because many exposed individuals left Bhopal immediately following the disaster never to return and were therefore lost to follow-up [ 8 ].

Health effects of the Bhopal methyl isocyanate gas leak exposure [8, 30-32].

Immediately after the disaster, UCC began attempts to dissociate itself from responsibility for the gas leak. Its principal tactic was to shift culpability to UCIL, stating the plant was wholly built and operated by the Indian subsidiary. It also fabricated scenarios involving sabotage by previously unknown Sikh extremist groups and disgruntled employees but this theory was impugned by numerous independent sources [ 1 ].

The toxic plume had barely cleared when, on December 7, the first multi-billion dollar lawsuit was filed by an American attorney in a U.S. court. This was the beginning of years of legal machinations in which the ethical implications of the tragedy and its affect on Bhopal's people were largely ignored. In March 1985, the Indian government enacted the Bhopal Gas Leak Disaster Act as a way of ensuring that claims arising from the accident would be dealt with speedily and equitably. The Act made the government the sole representative of the victims in legal proceedings both within and outside India. Eventually all cases were taken out of the U.S. legal system under the ruling of the presiding American judge and placed entirely under Indian jurisdiction much to the detriment of the injured parties.

In a settlement mediated by the Indian Supreme Court, UCC accepted moral responsibility and agreed to pay $470 million to the Indian government to be distributed to claimants as a full and final settlement. The figure was partly based on the disputed claim that only 3000 people died and 102,000 suffered permanent disabilities [ 9 ]. Upon announcing this settlement, shares of UCC rose $2 per share or 7% in value [ 1 ]. Had compensation in Bhopal been paid at the same rate that asbestosis victims where being awarded in US courts by defendant including UCC – which mined asbestos from 1963 to 1985 – the liability would have been greater than the $10 billion the company was worth and insured for in 1984 [ 10 ]. By the end of October 2003, according to the Bhopal Gas Tragedy Relief and Rehabilitation Department, compensation had been awarded to 554,895 people for injuries received and 15,310 survivors of those killed. The average amount to families of the dead was $2,200 [ 9 ].

At every turn, UCC has attempted to manipulate, obfuscate and withhold scientific data to the detriment of victims. Even to this date, the company has not stated exactly what was in the toxic cloud that enveloped the city on that December night [ 8 ]. When MIC is exposed to 200° heat, it forms degraded MIC that contains the more deadly hydrogen cyanide (HCN). There was clear evidence that the storage tank temperature did reach this level in the disaster. The cherry-red color of blood and viscera of some victims were characteristic of acute cyanide poisoning [ 11 ]. Moreover, many responded well to administration of sodium thiosulfate, an effective therapy for cyanide poisoning but not MIC exposure [ 11 ]. UCC initially recommended use of sodium thiosulfate but withdrew the statement later prompting suggestions that it attempted to cover up evidence of HCN in the gas leak. The presence of HCN was vigorously denied by UCC and was a point of conjecture among researchers [ 8 , 11 - 13 ].

As further insult, UCC discontinued operation at its Bhopal plant following the disaster but failed to clean up the industrial site completely. The plant continues to leak several toxic chemicals and heavy metals that have found their way into local aquifers. Dangerously contaminated water has now been added to the legacy left by the company for the people of Bhopal [ 1 , 14 ].

Lessons learned

The events in Bhopal revealed that expanding industrialization in developing countries without concurrent evolution in safety regulations could have catastrophic consequences [ 4 ]. The disaster demonstrated that seemingly local problems of industrial hazards and toxic contamination are often tied to global market dynamics. UCC's Sevin production plant was built in Madhya Pradesh not to avoid environmental regulations in the U.S. but to exploit the large and growing Indian pesticide market. However the manner in which the project was executed suggests the existence of a double standard for multinational corporations operating in developing countries [ 1 ]. Enforceable uniform international operating regulations for hazardous industries would have provided a mechanism for significantly improved in safety in Bhopal. Even without enforcement, international standards could provide norms for measuring performance of individual companies engaged in hazardous activities such as the manufacture of pesticides and other toxic chemicals in India [ 15 ]. National governments and international agencies should focus on widely applicable techniques for corporate responsibility and accident prevention as much in the developing world context as in advanced industrial nations [ 16 ]. Specifically, prevention should include risk reduction in plant location and design and safety legislation [ 17 ].

Local governments clearly cannot allow industrial facilities to be situated within urban areas, regardless of the evolution of land use over time. Industry and government need to bring proper financial support to local communities so they can provide medical and other necessary services to reduce morbidity, mortality and material loss in the case of industrial accidents.

Public health infrastructure was very weak in Bhopal in 1984. Tap water was available for only a few hours a day and was of very poor quality. With no functioning sewage system, untreated human waste was dumped into two nearby lakes, one a source of drinking water. The city had four major hospitals but there was a shortage of physicians and hospital beds. There was also no mass casualty emergency response system in place in the city [ 3 ]. Existing public health infrastructure needs to be taken into account when hazardous industries choose sites for manufacturing plants. Future management of industrial development requires that appropriate resources be devoted to advance planning before any disaster occurs [ 18 ]. Communities that do not possess infrastructure and technical expertise to respond adequately to such industrial accidents should not be chosen as sites for hazardous industry.

Following the events of December 3 1984 environmental awareness and activism in India increased significantly. The Environment Protection Act was passed in 1986, creating the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) and strengthening India's commitment to the environment. Under the new act, the MoEF was given overall responsibility for administering and enforcing environmental laws and policies. It established the importance of integrating environmental strategies into all industrial development plans for the country. However, despite greater government commitment to protect public health, forests, and wildlife, policies geared to developing the country's economy have taken precedence in the last 20 years [ 19 ].

India has undergone tremendous economic growth in the two decades since the Bhopal disaster. Gross domestic product (GDP) per capita has increased from $1,000 in 1984 to $2,900 in 2004 and it continues to grow at a rate of over 8% per year [ 20 ]. Rapid industrial development has contributed greatly to economic growth but there has been significant cost in environmental degradation and increased public health risks. Since abatement efforts consume a large portion of India's GDP, MoEF faces an uphill battle as it tries to fulfill its mandate of reducing industrial pollution [ 19 ]. Heavy reliance on coal-fired power plants and poor enforcement of vehicle emission laws have result from economic concerns taking precedence over environmental protection [ 19 ].

With the industrial growth since 1984, there has been an increase in small scale industries (SSIs) that are clustered about major urban areas in India. There are generally less stringent rules for the treatment of waste produced by SSIs due to less waste generation within each individual industry. This has allowed SSIs to dispose of untreated wastewater into drainage systems that flow directly into rivers. New Delhi's Yamuna River is illustrative. Dangerously high levels of heavy metals such as lead, cobalt, cadmium, chrome, nickel and zinc have been detected in this river which is a major supply of potable water to India's capital thus posing a potential health risk to the people living there and areas downstream [ 21 ].

Land pollution due to uncontrolled disposal of industrial solid and hazardous waste is also a problem throughout India. With rapid industrialization, the generation of industrial solid and hazardous waste has increased appreciably and the environmental impact is significant [ 22 ].

India relaxed its controls on foreign investment in order to accede to WTO rules and thereby attract an increasing flow of capital. In the process, a number of environmental regulations are being rolled back as growing foreign investments continue to roll in. The Indian experience is comparable to that of a number of developing countries that are experiencing the environmental impacts of structural adjustment. Exploitation and export of natural resources has accelerated on the subcontinent. Prohibitions against locating industrial facilities in ecologically sensitive zones have been eliminated while conservation zones are being stripped of their status so that pesticide, cement and bauxite mines can be built [ 23 ]. Heavy reliance on coal-fired power plants and poor enforcement of vehicle emission laws are other consequences of economic concerns taking precedence over environmental protection [ 19 ].

In March 2001, residents of Kodaikanal in southern India caught the Anglo-Dutch company, Unilever, red-handed when they discovered a dumpsite with toxic mercury laced waste from a thermometer factory run by the company's Indian subsidiary, Hindustan Lever. The 7.4 ton stockpile of mercury-laden glass was found in torn stacks spilling onto the ground in a scrap metal yard located near a school. In the fall of 2001, steel from the ruins of the World Trade Center was exported to India apparently without first being tested for contamination from asbestos and heavy metals present in the twin tower debris. Other examples of poor environmental stewardship and economic considerations taking precedence over public health concerns abound [ 24 ].

The Bhopal disaster could have changed the nature of the chemical industry and caused a reexamination of the necessity to produce such potentially harmful products in the first place. However the lessons of acute and chronic effects of exposure to pesticides and their precursors in Bhopal has not changed agricultural practice patterns. An estimated 3 million people per year suffer the consequences of pesticide poisoning with most exposure occurring in the agricultural developing world. It is reported to be the cause of at least 22,000 deaths in India each year. In the state of Kerala, significant mortality and morbidity have been reported following exposure to Endosulfan, a toxic pesticide whose use continued for 15 years after the events of Bhopal [ 25 ].

Aggressive marketing of asbestos continues in developing countries as a result of restrictions being placed on its use in developed nations due to the well-established link between asbestos products and respiratory diseases. India has become a major consumer, using around 100,000 tons of asbestos per year, 80% of which is imported with Canada being the largest overseas supplier. Mining, production and use of asbestos in India is very loosely regulated despite the health hazards. Reports have shown morbidity and mortality from asbestos related disease will continue in India without enforcement of a ban or significantly tighter controls [ 26 , 27 ].

UCC has shrunk to one sixth of its size since the Bhopal disaster in an effort to restructure and divest itself. By doing so, the company avoided a hostile takeover, placed a significant portion of UCC's assets out of legal reach of the victims and gave its shareholder and top executives bountiful profits [ 1 ]. The company still operates under the ownership of Dow Chemicals and still states on its website that the Bhopal disaster was "cause by deliberate sabotage". [ 28 ].

Some positive changes were seen following the Bhopal disaster. The British chemical company, ICI, whose Indian subsidiary manufactured pesticides, increased attention to health, safety and environmental issues following the events of December 1984. The subsidiary now spends 30–40% of their capital expenditures on environmental-related projects. However, they still do not adhere to standards as strict as their parent company in the UK. [ 24 ].

The US chemical giant DuPont learned its lesson of Bhopal in a different way. The company attempted for a decade to export a nylon plant from Richmond, VA to Goa, India. In its early negotiations with the Indian government, DuPont had sought and won a remarkable clause in its investment agreement that absolved it from all liabilities in case of an accident. But the people of Goa were not willing to acquiesce while an important ecological site was cleared for a heavy polluting industry. After nearly a decade of protesting by Goa's residents, DuPont was forced to scuttle plans there. Chennai was the next proposed site for the plastics plant. The state government there made significantly greater demand on DuPont for concessions on public health and environmental protection. Eventually, these plans were also aborted due to what the company called "financial concerns". [ 29 ].

The tragedy of Bhopal continues to be a warning sign at once ignored and heeded. Bhopal and its aftermath were a warning that the path to industrialization, for developing countries in general and India in particular, is fraught with human, environmental and economic perils. Some moves by the Indian government, including the formation of the MoEF, have served to offer some protection of the public's health from the harmful practices of local and multinational heavy industry and grassroots organizations that have also played a part in opposing rampant development. The Indian economy is growing at a tremendous rate but at significant cost in environmental health and public safety as large and small companies throughout the subcontinent continue to pollute. Far more remains to be done for public health in the context of industrialization to show that the lessons of the countless thousands dead in Bhopal have truly been heeded.

Competing interests

The author(s) declare that they have no competing interests.


J. Barab, B. Castleman, R Dhara and U Misra reviewed the manuscript and provided useful suggestions.

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Internet Geography

Kerala flood case study

Kerala flood case study.

Kerala is a state on the southwestern Malabar Coast of India. The state has the 13th largest population in India. Kerala, which lies in the tropical region, is mainly subject to the humid tropical wet climate experienced by most of Earth’s rainforests.

A map to show the location of Kerala

A map to show the location of Kerala

Eastern Kerala consists of land infringed upon by the Western Ghats (western mountain range); the region includes high mountains, gorges, and deep-cut valleys. The wildest lands are covered with dense forests, while other areas lie under tea and coffee plantations or other forms of cultivation.

The Indian state of Kerala receives some of India’s highest rainfall during the monsoon season. However, in 2018 the state experienced its highest level of monsoon rainfall in decades. According to the India Meteorological Department (IMD), there was 2346.3 mm of precipitation, instead of the average 1649.55 mm.

Kerala received over two and a half times more rainfall than August’s average. Between August 1 and 19, the state received 758.6 mm of precipitation, compared to the average of 287.6 mm, or 164% more. This was 42% more than during the entire monsoon season.

The unprecedented rainfall was caused by a spell of low pressure over the region. As a result, there was a perfect confluence of the south-west monsoon wind system and the two low-pressure systems formed over the Bay of Bengal and Odisha. The low-pressure regions pull in the moist south-west monsoon winds, increasing their speed, as they then hit the Western Ghats, travel skywards, and form rain-bearing clouds.

Further downpours on already saturated land led to more surface run-off causing landslides and widespread flooding.

Kerala has 41 rivers flowing into the Arabian Sea, and 80 of its dams were opened after being overwhelmed. As a result, water treatment plants were submerged, and motors were damaged.

In some areas, floodwater was between 3-4.5m deep. Floods in the southern Indian state of Kerala have killed more than 410 people since June 2018 in what local officials said was the worst flooding in 100 years. Many of those who died had been crushed under debris caused by landslides. More than 1 million people were left homeless in the 3,200 emergency relief camps set up in the area.

Parts of Kerala’s commercial capital, Cochin, were underwater, snarling up roads and leaving railways across the state impassable. In addition, the state’s airport, which domestic and overseas tourists use, was closed, causing significant disruption.

Local plantations were inundated by water, endangering the local rubber, tea, coffee and spice industries.

Schools in all 14 districts of Kerala were closed, and some districts have banned tourists because of safety concerns.

Maintaining sanitation and preventing disease in relief camps housing more than 800,000 people was a significant challenge. Authorities also had to restore regular clean drinking water and electricity supplies to the state’s 33 million residents.

Officials have estimated more than 83,000km of roads will need to be repaired and that the total recovery cost will be between £2.2bn and $2.7bn.

Indians from different parts of the country used social media to help people stranded in the flood-hit southern state of Kerala. Hundreds took to social media platforms to coordinate search, rescue and food distribution efforts and reach out to people who needed help. Social media was also used to support fundraising for those affected by the flooding. Several Bollywood stars supported this.

Some Indians have opened up their homes for people from Kerala who were stranded in other cities because of the floods.

Thousands of troops were deployed to rescue those caught up in the flooding. Army, navy and air force personnel were deployed to help those stranded in remote and hilly areas. Dozens of helicopters dropped tonnes of food, medicine and water over areas cut off by damaged roads and bridges. Helicopters were also involved in airlifting people marooned by the flooding to safety.

More than 300 boats were involved in rescue attempts. The state government said each boat would get 3,000 rupees (£34) for each day of their work and that authorities would pay for any damage to the vessels.

As the monsoon rains began to ease, efforts increased to get relief supplies to isolated areas along with clean up operations where water levels were falling.

Millions of dollars in donations have poured into Kerala from the rest of India and abroad in recent days. Other state governments have promised more than $50m, while ministers and company chiefs have publicly vowed to give a month’s salary.

Even supreme court judges have donated $360 each, while the British-based Sikh group Khalsa Aid International has set up its own relief camp in Kochi, Kerala’s main city, to provide meals for 3,000 people a day.

International Response

In the wake of the disaster, the UAE, Qatar and the Maldives came forward with offers of financial aid amounting to nearly £82m. The United Arab Emirates promised $100m (£77m) of this aid. This is because of the close relationship between Kerala and the UAE. There are a large number of migrants from Kerala working in the UAE. The amount was more than the $97m promised by India’s central government. However, as it has done since 2004, India declined to accept aid donations. The main reason for this is to protect its image as a newly industrialised country; it does not need to rely on other countries for financial help.

Google provided a donation platform to allow donors to make donations securely. Google partners with the Center for Disaster Philanthropy (CDP), an intermediary organisation that specialises in distributing your donations to local nonprofits that work in the affected region to ensure funds reach those who need them the most.

Google provided a donation service to support people affected by flooding in Kerala

Google Kerala Donate

Tales of humanity and hope

Check your understanding.

Kerala Floods Quiz

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Looking back at the natural disasters that took place in India in 2021

Looking back at the natural disasters that took place in India in 2021

  • Between 1970 to 2019, weather, climate and water hazards accounted for 50% of all disasters, 45% of all reported deaths and 74% of all reported economic losses, according to World Meteorological Organization (WMO).
  • According to the World Economic Forum, disaster events have been recorded in the past 20 years, which have claimed the lives of 1.23 million people.
  • A flashback at the natural disasters that hit different parts of India this year.

Tamil Nadu floods

Tamil Nadu floods

The Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) had predicted heavy rainfall in parts of Tamil Nadu, and it came true from November 1. The flooding was caused by extremely heavy downpours, killing at least 41 people.

Several red alerts were issued for many areas in Tamil Nadu, including Cuddalore, Sivaganga, Ramanathapuram, Karaikal, Tiruvallur, Chennai, Kanchipuram, Chengalpattu, Viluppuram, and Tiruvannamalai for November 10-11. Over 11,000 were displaced due to the incessant rainfall.

Maharashtra floods

Maharashtra floods

Starting on 22 July, Maharashtra saw heavy rainfall in many of its western districts and recorded the highest rainfall in the month of July in 40 years.

Around 251 people died and over 100 were missing due to floods and landslides in Maharashtra.

Its neighbouring state Goa also witnessed the worst floods in decades.

Kerala floods

Kerala floods

Between October 12 and 20, after heavy rains caused rivers to overflow, cutting off towns and villages, 42 people died and 217 houses were destroyed. Out of the 42 people who lost their lives in the floods, five were children.

Kottayam and Idukki were two of the worst affected districts in the state, where days of heavy rainfall had caused deadly landslides.

Cyclone Tauktae

Cyclone Tauktae

It was a powerful, deadly and damaging tropical cyclone in the Arabian Sea that became the strongest tropical cyclone to make landfall in the Indian state of Gujarat since the 1998 Gujarat cyclone and one of the strongest tropical cyclones to ever affect the west coast of India.

Started on May 14, the storm displaced over 200,000 people in Gujarat and killed 174 people with 80 people still missing.

Tauktae brought heavy rainfall and flash floods to areas along the coast of Kerala and Lakshadweep. There were reports of heavy rain in the states of Goa, Karnataka and Maharashtra as well.

Cyclone Yaas

Cyclone Yaas

It was a relatively strong and very damaging tropical cyclone that made landfall in Odisha and brought significant impact to West Bengal in May. Yaas formed from a tropical disturbance that the Indian Meteorological Department first monitored on May 23.

Around 20 people across India and Bangladesh died due to the cyclone and West Bengal was one of the most impacted states in India due to Yaas, with a loss of approximately $2.76 billion, according to several media reports.

Cyclone Gulab

Cyclone Gulab

The third storm in India that impacted eastern India, was formed on September 24 in Bay of Bengal. On September 26, Gulab made landfall in India's Andhra Pradesh, but weakened over land. The storm overall brought heavy rains and strong winds throughout India and the Middle East, killing at least 39 people.

Over 30,000 individuals were evacuated into safety as a result of the cyclone. This number further increased to 46,075 people as the storm further moved inland.

Assam earthquake

Assam earthquake

On April 28, a 6.4 magnitude earthquake jolted Assam. The quake resulted in two fatalities and at least 12 people were injured. The quake struck at a depth of 34 kilometres and 140 kilometres north of Guwahati.

The earthquake occurred as a result of oblique-slip faulting at a shallow depth just at the foothills of the Himalayas. Analysis by India's National Centre for Seismology revealed that the earthquake involved a slip along the Kopili Fault, near the Main Frontal Thrust.

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10 of the world’s biggest man-made disasters

Some of the biggest, most significant, and most harmful man-made disasters in human history.

One of the biggest man-made disasters, Chernobyl nuclear plant

The Aberfan Colliery Slip

The seveso disaster, chernobyl meltdown, montana asbestos clouds, the deepwater horizon oil spill, the bhopal disaster, the sidoarjo mud volcano, the north pacific garbage patch, californian wildfires, the jilin chemical plant explosion, additional resources.

Human history is riddled with man-made disasters, from nuclear meltdowns and underwater oil spills to chemical explosions and mine collapses. We find out exactly what happened in some infamous cases – and how humanity played a pivotal role in these events.

Big man-made disasters don’t often happen in Britain , which made the Aberfan colliery slip even more shocking. The Welsh Valleys village of Aberfan grew up around the nearby coal mine that was established back in 1869. By 1966, the settlement had grown, and the village was surrounded by seven huge spoil piles – waste material from mining.

Aerial view of Aberfan slip

That’s not necessarily a problem, but in October 1966 the village of Aberfan was hit by more than six inches of rainfall, and caused the seventh spoil pile to subside. At 09.15 GMT on Oct. 21,1966 a vast quantity of saturated debris broke free from the pile and travelled towards the village at speeds between 11 and 21 miles-per-hour (approximately 17 and 34 kilometers)and in waves up to 30 feet (9meters) high, according to the Smithsonian magazine .

The result was devastating. 144 people lost their lives in the ensuing avalanche – tragically, 116 children were among the dead, according to the Independent . The fast-moving material demolished a primary school (elementary school) and damaged a nearby secondary school (high school), and 18 nearby houses were destroyed.

Thousands of volunteers travelled to Aberfan to aid rescue efforts, and the Prime Minister and Queen Elizabeth both visited in the days following the incident, according to the BBC . The Aberfan disaster remains one of the UK’s worst mining incidents. 

People in hazmat suits in Seveso

This industrial accident took place at a chemical plant north of Milan, Italy. On Saturday July 10 1976, the factory was producing a chemical called 2,4,5-Trichlorophenol, which has been used as a chemical weapon and in weedkillers, according to the journal Chemosphere .

On that daya chain reaction ruptured the reactor — and that, in turn, caused six tonnes of toxic chemicals to burst into the sky.

The cloud settled over 6 square miles (18 square kilometers) of the surrounding area, including the town of Seveso, according to the journal Environment international. Children were hospitalized with skin inflammations, hundreds of residents suffered from skin conditions, and huge areas of land were evacuated. Thousands of animals died or had to be slaughtered to prevent toxins entering the food chain.

The Seveso disaster has had a long-term impact, too. Since 1976, studies have found that more local residents died from cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, and certain types of cancer increased in frequency in the affected areas. 

Chernobyl nuclear power plant

The explosion at Chernobyl is one of the world’s most infamous man-made disasters — and with good reason. It started innocently enough, with engineers performing a routine experiment that was supposed to find out if the plant’s emergency water cooling would work during a power outage.

The test had been carried out previously, but on this occasion, there was a power surge and engineers couldn’t shut down Chernobyl’s nuclear reactors. Steam built up in one reactor, the roof was blown off, the nuclear core was exposed, and radioactive material was released into the atmosphere.

Workers and firefighters were hospitalised and 28 people quickly passed away from acute radiation exposure. It took nearly two weeks, and military intervention, to extinguish the fires. 

Crucially, it took more than a day for the 50,000 residents of nearby Pripyat to be evacuated. Following this, the government established a 19-mile (30km) "exclusion zone" and built a containment dome over the top of the site.

In the years following the incident, studies estimate that thousands of people have succumbed to cancer because of the radiation. It’s one of the most expensive disasters in history, too, and it’s estimated that containment and clean-up efforts will continue until 2065. 

Libby's sealed mines

The story of Libby, Montana, began when settlers arrived in the 1800s and the town expanded thanks to mine and railroad construction. In 1919the discovery of a mineral called Vermiculite changed Libby’s fate.

Vermiculite has loads of uses, from gardening to car parts, and the mine in Libby was producing 80% of the world’s supply by 1963. That’s great and lucrative, but some kinds of vermiculite contain asbestos, an exceptionally dangerous substance that can cause a huge range of lung issues.

The vermiculite in Libby, Montana, did contain asbestos, and the mining company knew about its dangerous side effects. But they didn’t tell anyone, and people in Libby used the mine’s waste products for building and landscaping, including in school projects and ice rinks.

As a result, nearly 10% of the town’s population died from asbestos-related illness, and the people who died weren’t always miners – the asbestos fibres that caused health problems are easy to pass to other people, according to the Mesothelioma Hope organization .

The town, effectively, had spent decades operating under a toxic cloud. The mine closed in 1990, but the town’s issues didn’t become well-known until 1999, and in 2009 the US government declared an emergency in Libby to clean up the town, according to the Guardian .

By then it was too late. Hundreds of people have passed away from asbestos-related health issues, thousands more have experienced illness, and new deaths and diseases were still being reported as late as 2018 due to the long-term effects of these poisonous substances.

The Risks of Asbestos

Deadly asbestos fibres can cause serious health problems for decades – including these five issues.

The US government’s Environmental Protection Agency investigated more than 8,000 properties in Libby and had to decontaminate more than 3,000 different sites where asbestos was used in construction. More than one million cubic yards of material was replaced over the course of the clean-up project, and more than half a billion dollars was spent to decontaminate the town. 

Contaminated material is now stored safely at the site of the former mine, and the project has only begun to slow down in the past couple of years – no wonder, as it’s been the biggest asbestos clean-up project in US history.

Satellite view of oil spill

Oil spills are among the most visible man-made disasters of our times, and 2010’s Deepwater Horizon incident is reputed to be the largest marine oil spill in history.

The name comes from the drilling apparatus at the centre of the incident. The Deepwater Horizon oil rig was a floating platform that was drilling an exploratory oil well around 18,300 feet (5,600 meters) below sea level in the Gulf of Mexico, as Live Science has previously reported . That, in itself, was not a problem, and the rig was operating well within its limits. But on April 20t 2010, methane gas from the underwater well expanded and rose into the drilling rig, where it ignited and exploded.

The explosion quickly engulfed the entire drilling platform, killing eleven workers, and ninety-four crew members were evacuated. Two days later, the rig had sunk.

By that point, though, a vast oil slick had emerged from the underwater well and had begun to spread at the site. BP, the company that had contracted the Deepwater Horizon ship for exploratory drilling, tried to halt the leak with remote-controlled underwater vehicles, a 137-ton (125 metric tonnes) containment dome and by drilling a secondary well, but the oil flowed for 87 days. 

It’s estimated that 210 million gallons (around 954 million liters) of oil were leaked from the underwater well and that the spill directly affected 70,000 square miles (around 181, 000 square kilometers)of ocean in the Gulf of Mexico.

Mopping Up the Spill

The Deepwater Horizon oil spill was an unprecedented disaster. How do you clean it up?

Eventually, the oil was contained and either dispersed or cleaned up using several different methods and thousands of volunteers. By then, though, the environmental impact was being felt on a global scale: the Deepwater Horizon spill killed millions of animals, and the incident affected wildlife and ecosystems across several US states and beyond.

Candlelit vigil

On December 2, 1984, there was a gas leak at a pesticide plant in Bhopal, India, according to The Atlantic . It was caused by malfunctioning safety systems, and a runaway pressure increase saw 40 tonnes of a chemical called methyl isocyanate leak into the atmosphere. 

That’s a huge amount of toxic material, and the plant was surrounded by densely-packed housing – so more than 600,000 people were exposed to the deadly cloud.

The people living around the plant were not informed quickly, and hospital staff were given conflicting information about the situation. Innocent people suffered from coughing, eye irritation, burns, breathlessness and vomiting, and thousands of people died within hours, as Live Science has previously reported. Thousands of animals passed away, too. 

Longer-term studies since the accident have confirmed that many thousands of people are still affected by eye , lung, and psychological damage – and, even today, it’s hard to say exactly how many people have suffered.

Statues from destroyed villages in Sidoarjo

Most people think of lava flowing from a volcano, but in Sidoarjo, Indonesia, you’ll find the world’s biggest mud volcano . It was created by an explosion at a gas well drilled by an energy company, although company officials claim that an earthquake around 155 miles (250km) away provoked the problem.

There are more than 1,000 mud volcanoes around the world, but this Indonesian example is probably the only one caused by human activity, according to the journal Mud Volcanoes, Geodynamics and Seismicity It all started on May 28 2006, when a borehole was drilled to nearly 10,000 feet (3,000 meters). This caused water, steam, and gas to erupt from the ground nearby, and by the next day water, steam and mud began to emerge again – and it’s been there ever since. It’s officially called Lumpur Lapindo, and is commonly called the Lusi volcano. 

Initially, the volcano erupted with more than 6.3 million cubic foot (180,000 cubic meters) of mud per day, according to the BBC .

Eleven people were killed during a pipeline explosion, and 30,000 people were evacuated from the area. A dozen villages and more than 10,000 homes were destroyed, and metal from the mud flow has contaminated nearby rivers, according to the news site Boston.com . 

Birth of a Volcano

How the outflow of mud was triggered.

There aren’t many man-made disasters that are as large or as visible as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. There’s nothing particularly complicated about what’s gone on here: a huge amount of rubbish has made its way into the ocean over the past decades because of negligent humans.

Map of garbage patch

The patch stretches from the Californian coast, all the way across the Pacific Ocean to Japan, and it’s actually compromised of two different tracts of trash – one on the western side of the ocean, and another on the east according to National Geographic . Currents combine to suck rubbish into a vortex, and these tiny objects can’t escape.

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The Great Pacific Garbage Patch isn’t just made up of crisp packets and drinks bottles. Most of the plastic in the patch has broken down into tiny pieces that simply make the water look cloudy, and ecologists estimate that 70% of ocean debris sinks to the bottom of the sea — so there could be far more below the surface.

The patch’s size varies: estimates range that it sits between around 270,000 and 5.8 million square miles (700,000 and 15,000,000km2) depending on sea movement. Some of the items in the patch are over 50 years old, because plastics just aren’t biodegradable. Scientists reckon that it’s becoming ten times bigger with every passing decade, despite attempts to tackle the problem, according to CBS News .

Unsurprisingly, the patch has a terrible effect on wildlife. Marine animals can get caught in bits of plastic or in abandoned fishing nets, which can quickly lead to death. Animals can die when they mistake plastic items for food.

The patch also has a huge and harmful impact on the ocean’s ecosystems and food chains, because plastic on the surface of the water can block sunlight from algae and plankton and pollutants can leak from different types of plastics.

Fires burning on Californian hills

Climate change has seen wildfires become a far more common threat around the world, and 2018 saw huge areas of California affected by some of the worst fires in recent memory,. More than 100 people died in more than 8,500 fires across California, and the fires destroyed more than 24,000 buildings and burned two million acres of land.

Most of the fires in California took place in July and August, and the government declared a national disaster. 

There’s no doubt that the fires were a man-made disaster. The years that preceded the fires saw an increase in temperatures due to climate change, and that killed plenty of trees in California — and those dead, dry trees provide ample fuel for fires to spread. 

Scientists predict that this kind of disaster is only going to become more common because of climate change, so California’s extreme weather may soon feel normal. Sadly, it has significant health effects on people too . 

Firemen at the Jilin Petroleum and Chemical Company

This incident took place in the Chinese city of Jilin in November 2005, and saw a series of explosions at a petrochemical plant. In the immediate aftermath of the blasts more than 10,000 people were evacuated from the local area, according to the New York Times .

That’s bad enough, but it’s not the full story. The explosions released around 110 tons (100 metric tonnes) of pollutants into the Songhua River, and that was a big deal – because several large cities depend on that river for their water supply, according to the Environmental Emergencies Centre . 

Supplies were cut off for several days while the water supplies were cleaned up, and water had to be transported from unaffected cities to help people cope. Some cities dug deep-water wells to ensure that they won’t be totally dependent on rivers for their water supplies.

Toxins from the original explosions didn’t just affect Chinese water supplies, either. Chemicals were detected in Russian cities and in the Sea of Japan.  

For more examples of man-made disasters check out " A Century of Man-Made Disasters " by Nigel Blundell, " World's Worst Historical Disasters: Natural and Man-Made Catastrophes from the Ancient World to the Present Day " by Chris McNab and " Introduction to Natural and Man-made Disasters and Their Effects on Buildings " by Roxanna McDonald. 

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Mike Jennings

Mike is a freelance technology journalist and consultant who is fascinated with gaming, futuristic technology and motorsport. Previously, Mike has worked as a writer for PC Pro magazine writing and published articles on technology for many other media outlets, including TechRadar, Wired, PC Advisor, Stuff, The Inquirer and Red Bull Gaming. 

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case study of man made disasters in india

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UPSC Essentials: Case study of the week- Mundka fire case: Fire disaster in urban areas.

Disaster in urban areas and their management can be an important theme in GS I, III, Ethics (GS IV), and Essay for UPSC-CSE.

case study of man made disasters in india

The recent Mundka fire incident in Delhi is yet another case of man-made disaster that the capital has witnessed. Knowing the issue, the problems and the solutions can be very relevant for UPSC-CSE aspirants.

case study of man made disasters in india

The case: The recent Mundka fire incident in Delhi is yet another case of man-made disaster that the capital has witnessed. Fire incidents in Delhi speak volumes of how India’s urban centers have time and again failed to meet the very basic safety norms. Delhi has seen disastrous fire incidents before such as at Uphaar Cinema (1997), the Lal Kuan fire tragedy (1999), the Anand Mandi fire (2019), and Hotel fire in Karol Bagh (2019). The point is that these buildings and localities are sources of livelihood for a substantial section of the city’s population but they are unregulated.

The issues: Man-made or human-instigated disasters in which buildings in urban centers catch fire and lead to fatalities.

The problems:

1) Lapse in following the norms in construction.

2) Congestion in the building.

3) Lack of fire exits as the building had only one staircase as an escape route.

4) Illegal constructions, unplanned infrastructure and poorly ventilated workplaces.

Festive offer

5) No fire clearance, lapsed manufacturing unit license and no NOCs from concerned authorities.

6) Missing the basic norms of occupational safety.

The measures to be taken:

1) Illegal constructions and unplanned infrastructure need to be checked by the competent authorities. It is the duty of authorities to ensure compliance.

2) Regular audit of buildings and enforced regulations in such urban centers. Building by-laws should not be infringed.

3) Accountabilities for employees should be fixed at all levels.

4) Political will to improve the working conditions.

5) Emergency disaster drills in such urban centers.

6) Political will to improve the working conditions.

Between the lines of the case: The nature of informal industrial units in urban areas.

There are extremely poor working conditions in the informal urban areas. Even the provision of drinking water and toilet facilities is often denied to workers. The quality of jobs is very poor in informal establishments, especially for women. Many women workers are often the primary breadwinners of their households. Such jobs also consist of long working hours, and the absence of any leave, including maternity leave. Most of the workers are very young and are forced to join the labor market in low-paid jobs. A dignified life can’t be imagined. It is also often reported that there is poor enforcement of the labor laws by the enforcement machinery as the corruption has entered into administration. The incident underscores the invisibilities and insecurities of informal workers in the city. This shows the lack of identity of informal sector workers. Neetha N. writes that the Mundka fire incident underscores the invisibilities and insecurities of informal workers in the city. This in turn shows the lack of identity of informal sector workers.

Points to ponder : 

1) Try to view the disaster management of fire in a building from the perspective of mitigation, preparedness, response, and recovery.

2) What is The Occupational Safety, Health and Working Conditions Code, 2020 (OSHWC)?  

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    Therefore, we started with this case study of charting out the accidents in Mumbai from the years 2014-2018 (half a decade), as reported in public newspapers. We focussed on public reporting of accidents that tells us the hidden loss of lives. While these may be depicted as trivial in public consumption of information, it also shows a safety ...

  11. Northeast India flood: Man-made disaster worsened by climate change

    Even if cloud burst and GLOF are natural, the resultant disaster is 100% human made." Buddhist men helping clean up an affected house after a deadly flood in Teesta Bazaar, West Bengal, India ...

  12. Explained

    In the Himalayas, there is a noticeable pattern of increased precipitation occurring in shorter periods of time. The India Meteorological Department data shows that the normal rainfall during this ...

  13. The Bhopal disaster and its aftermath: a review

    Abstract. On December 3 1984, more than 40 tons of methyl isocyanate gas leaked from a pesticide plant in Bhopal, India, immediately killing at least 3,800 people and causing significant morbidity and premature death for many thousands more. The company involved in what became the worst industrial accident in history immediately tried to ...

  14. Kerala flood case study

    Effects. In some areas, floodwater was between 3-4.5m deep. Floods in the southern Indian state of Kerala have killed more than 410 people since June 2018 in what local officials said was the worst flooding in 100 years. Many of those who died had been crushed under debris caused by landslides.

  15. A Case Study on Manmade Disasters

    2.1 DISASTER PHASE: The Bhopal disaster, also referred to as the Bhopal gas tragedy, was a gas leak incident in India, considered one of the world's worst industrial disasters. It occurred on the night of 2-3 December 1984 at the Union Carbide India Limited (UCIL) pesticide plant in Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh, India.

  16. List of natural disasters in India in 2021

    Cyclone Gulab. BCCL. The third storm in India that impacted eastern India, was formed on September 24 in Bay of Bengal. On September 26, Gulab made landfall in India's Andhra Pradesh, but weakened ...

  17. Disaster Management: A Case Study of Uttarakhand

    A Case Study of Uttarakhand. At the peak of the monsoon season the northern state of Uttarakhand was face to face. with floods caused due to the cloud burst that hit three of the four famous Char ...


    Consequences of Man-made Disasters. Man-made disasters can cause short term morbidity and mortality, and damage the quality of life and cause premature deaths. The causes of short term morbidity result in injuries, emotional stress, epidemics and increase in indigenous diseases. One glaring example is that of forest fires.

  19. 10 of the world's biggest man-made disasters

    Some of the biggest, most significant, and most harmful man-made disasters in human history. The ruined 4 reactor of Chernobyl nuclear power plant.(Image credit: Getty Images) Jump to: The Aberfan ...

  20. Category:Man-made disasters in India

    Transport disasters in India‎ (6 C, 1 P) W. Wars involving India‎ (25 C, 50 P) Pages in category "Man-made disasters in India" The following 3 pages are in this category, out of 3 total. This list may not reflect recent changes. 0-9. 2022 Silchar Floods; H. Hapur chemical plant explosion; M.

  21. Disaster Management-I

    India is vulnerable, in varying degrees, to a large number of disasters. Around 59% of the landmass is prone to earthquakes of moderate to very high intensity. About 12% (over 40 million hectares) of its land is prone to floods and river erosion. Close to 5,700 kms, out of the 7,516 kms long coastline is prone to cyclones and tsunamis.

  22. UPSC Essentials: Case study of the week- Mundka fire case: Fire

    The case: The recent Mundka fire incident in Delhi is yet another case of man-made disaster that the capital has witnessed. Fire incidents in Delhi speak volumes of how India's urban centers have time and again failed to meet the very basic safety norms. Delhi has seen disastrous fire incidents before such as at Uphaar Cinema (1997), the Lal Kuan fire tragedy (1999), the Anand Mandi fire ...