4 January 2023
Joshimath: an Indian town with a serious landslide problem
Joshimath is a town built in a beautiful setting on the side of a mountain in Chamoli District in Uttarakhand in northern India. Located in the same district as the 2021 Chamoli landslide and debris flow, this is an area with many slope stability issues. The town itself, situated at 30.553, 79.563, looks like this on Google Earth:-
A rapid inspection of the site suggests a host of underlying landslide concerns with this slope. The large scoop missing from below the town in the centre right of the image is particularly intriguing for example. History tells us that slope problems are often greatly exacerbated by urbanisation, including disruption to the drainage, the uncontrolled discharge of water and undercutting of slopes.
Over the last few days, a number of media outlets in India have run stories about the scale of the landslide issues that are occurring at Joshimath, and the rate at which they are developing. For example, PKB News has quite a detailed story about the impacts of the slope failure. Their story notes the scale of the problem:
In Joshimath of Uttarakhand, people are in panic as cracks have appeared in around 559 houses. Due to the landslide, not only the houses, but also the roads along with the hotels and hospitals present there have been cracked.
The Times of India has a set of photographs of the catastrophic damage that is occurring to buildings in Josimath, whilst the PKB News story is illustrated with this image:-
Interestingly, the Times of India reports that an investigation in 1976 reported that the town is built upon an ancient landslide, and that the long term prognosis was poor.
Clearly there is an urgent need to investigate the hazards at Joshimath, and to develop a plan to manage the hazard. Reports indicate that a survey of damaged properties is under way, but this needs to be a part of a major larger investigation. Unfortunately, managing a landslide on this scale is likely to be very expensive.
It is of course worth noting as well that this is an area of significant seismic hazard, so the potential behaviour of these slopes during a major shake should also be factored in.