17 January 2023

Joshimath – continued development of the landslide

Posted by Dave Petley

Joshimath – continued development of the landslide

The controversy around the Joshimath landslide crisis has continued to develop over the past week.  Most importantly, there is clear evidence that the landslide itself is still moving, although the magnitude of those movements is unclear.  The number of buildings that have developed cracks has increased to 849, resulting in the displacement of about 800 people from 237 families.  The Times of India reports that further demolitions of buildings are planned:-

In a significant development, the Uttarakhand government on Monday decided to “mechanically demolish” structures at Jaypee Residential Colony in Joshimath that cannot be retrofitted or repaired to reduce the burden on the slope said to be accountable for the situation in the town. This would be the second major demolition exercise after the administration a few days ago began to raze two of Joshimath’s biggest hotels.

A house marked as being unsafe in Joshimath.

A house marked as being unsafe in Joshimath. Image from The Indian Express.


Demolishing buildings to maintain public safety is sensible where there is little chance that they can be recovered.  However, I am somewhat skeptical of the argument that this will reduce the burden on the slope in any meaningful way.

Last week I noted that the handling of the communications around this landslide is a case study in poor disaster communication.  Sadly, this situation continues.  I noted that the ISRO report about Joshimath had been removed from the internet (although an archive version is still available) – The Indian Express reports that the National Disaster Management Agency (NDMA) ordered that it was removed, and has also instructed that a dozen other agencies are banned from speaking to the media about the crisis. An article in the Deccan Herald notes, correctly in my view, that this is counter-productive.

There is some sense in controlling information about the crisis to ensure that the information that reaches the public is of a high quality.  However, there appears to be a vacuum of factual information about Joshimath, which will inevitably lead to anger, conspiracy theories and misunderstandings.  This is so very unhelpful.  If the NDMA wishes to control the flow of information about Joshimath then surely it should be providing daily updates on the known facts and the ongoing work to understand the failure.