Print Edition - 2014-08-12  |  Development

Thinking ahead of disaster

  • Experts say identifying vulnerable areas and taking preparedness measures can reduce loss
Thinking ahead of disaster

Aug 11, 2014-

A total of 37 landslides and debris  flow reported over the past four months in various parts of the country, particularly along the hill and mountainous landscapes, has killed at least 75 people and left 127 missing. According to a report compiled by the National Emergency Operation Center (NEOC) on loss of lives and properties from disaster, a total of 545 events of 12 different types of natural disasters reported within the past four months until August 8 claimed 216 lives with landslide topping the list, followed by thunderbolt.

On August 2, a massive landslide hit a whole village in Mankha VDC of Sindhupalchok district. This landslide which collapsed on Sunkoshi river and created a natural dam with the formation of a large lake is considered one of the most disastrous natural calamities to hit the country in more than a decade. The incident presented the bitter reminder of a poor disaster management approach undertaken in mitigating landslide disasters in the country.

Every monsoon, the mid hill and the mountain region of the country witness the occurrence of thousands of new and reactivated landslides, causing a huge loss of lives and property. Weak and fragile geological structures, including fractured rocks and fine particles compounded with climatic conditions such as monsoon, make a majority of places in the mid hills prone to landslides and debris flow.

“It is impossible to prevent landslides from occurring, given Nepal’s weak geophysical and climatic conditions; however, we can minimise the risks of lives and property loss with proper preparedness and sharing right information to the vulnerable communities,” says Bishal Nath Uprety, a geologist and professor at Tribhuvan University.

Uprety who also heads the Disaster Preparedness Network Nepal (DPNET), says coming up with a landslide mapping, hazard assessment and risk evaluation system for vulnerable areas is a key challenge in preparing the policymakers and vulnerable local communities for disasters.

Unlike flood, landslides are not easy to predict. Early warning technologies and forecasting for landslides is a challenging task. In the recent years, the government along with developmental partners and donor agencies working in the disaster risk management have invested in installing and improving forecasting and early warning methodologies with real-time information system on amount and intensity of rainfall to warn the vulnerable people a few hours before the occurrence of flooding events.

However, developing such a system for landslide is not easy, says Uprety. “We can, however, work towards mitigating the risks by identifying the potential vulnerable areas, assessing the threat and warning the people living downstream from the possible landslide-prone areas. We could do that through a proper hazard and risk map developed by using remote-sensing tools and satellite images.” A similar system is put in place in Alps, Switzerland, where the country has prepared hazard and risk map after identifying the landslide prone areas, the nature of landslides and its occurrence. This systematic approach is aimed at protecting the villages and preventing high risks, particularly human lives, during disaster through proper preparedness plan.

Unfortunately, villages and large scale human settlements in mid-hills of Nepal are sprawled in areas where the landslides have occurred previously, says Uprety. “Landslide brings together debris and fine particles and creates a big surface areas, which are used for human settlements in some years period. This type of haphazard and unmanaged settlement plan puts the villages under severe threat of future landslides,” he warns.

Nepal Disaster Report 2013, points out that important mountain highways of Nepal, including the Tribhuvan, Prithivi, Araniko, Butwal-Pokhara and Narayanghat-Mugling, regularly experience landslides. Similarly, a report prepared in 2002 mentions that roughly 12,000 landslides/slope failures occur every year in Nepal.

In the landslides related disasters, the Department of Water Induced Disasters and Preparedness (DWIDP) has been applying structural mitigation measures like construction of check dams, slope drainage, horizontal drainage boring, bio-engineering, toe wall and retaining walls.

Other structural measures such as gabion boxes filled with stones to prevent and minimise the impact of a landslide has also been in practice in different landslide-prone and hit areas. However, the efforts have been inadequate.

“We have not put focus on developing resilient community to various disasters. All that we have been doing so far is  dealing with post disaster.

We need to think in advance and prepare accordingly to reduce the risk and damage caused by natural disasters,” says Narendra Raj Khanal, a geographer with Tribhuvan University.

Published: 12-08-2014 09:18

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