Friday, August 28, 2009

Progress of sorts..Meeting with Govt Officials (27Aug2009)

An Excerpt from the Telegraph
Study must for master plan: Sen
- official wants tech colleges in battle against landslides

Kalimpong, Aug. 27: Home secretary Ardhendu Sen today said a thorough study would have to be conducted in the hills before a master plan was worked out to battle landslides.

The need to prepare the master plan for the Kalimpong subdivision was mooted at a meeting attended by the home secretary and a local NGO.

After attending a series of meetings at Deolo, about 5km from here today, Sen said: “We will have to identify an agency which can do the job and take the help of engineering colleges and universities.”

People cross a makeshift bamboo bridge after a culvert was washed away by a landslide at
Chinna Dara. Picture by Chinlop Fudong Lepcha

Save The Hills (STH), the NGO actively engaged in espousing the landslide issue, gave a power-point presentation on the damage caused by the mudslips in and around the town. Apart from Sen, principal secretary of disaster management M. L. Meena, Darjeeling district magistrate Surendra Gupta and Kalimpong subdivisional officer Amyas Tshering were also present at the meeting. STH president Praful Rao, who made the presentation along with colleague Upendra Mani Pradhan, said the master plan should be prepared after thoroughly studying the hill topography, land use pattern, building plans and drainage system.

“A comprehensive master plan is a must for a long term solution, although we must realise it will not be possible to stop landslides from occurring completely. It is also important to have a proper disaster management programme in place,” he added.

The home secretary said the subdivision had suffered a loss of Rs 80 crore in the recent landslides and 400 houses had been fully damaged.

The subdivisional officer and district magistrate, he said, would prepare a report on the basis of which Rs 25,000 would be given to each family whose houses had been completely damaged in landslides last week.

Two other immediate measures that the administration would take are diversion of streams to save houses and villages and construction of temporary pathways in places where bridges and culverts have been completely damaged. “For the long-term restoration, we are making an estimate,” said Sen.

On NH31A, the home secretary said the Darjeeling DM will meet the NHPC in a day or two to impress upon it the need to expedite the restoration of the road above its dam site at 27 Mile, about 25km from here. The landslide at that spot is the worst on the highway that connects Siliguri to Kalimpong and Gangtok.

The home secretary was in Darjeeling yesterday where he agreed to the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha’s proposal to add 1400 houses to the list of house owners who will be compensated for the havoc wreaked by Cyclone Aila in May.

Comment by Praful Rao
Those present in the meeting were :-
1. Mr Ardhendu Sen(IAS), Home Secy (W.B) 2. Mr ML Meena (IAS), Principal Secy, Disaster Management (W.B) 3. Mr Surendra Gupta(IAS), District Magistrate, Darjeeling 4. Mr Amyas Tsering(WBCS), SDO, Kalimpong 5. Executive Engineers, Mr Yogesh Pradhan (Kalimpong Engineering Division) , Mr Kapil Dahal (Irrigation Dept), Mr Anil Chhetri (Public Health Engineering), Mr C Rai (Power Dept), Mr PR Pradhan (Rural Dev), Mr MANV Prasad O/C 764 BRTF, Ms Diki Pradhan(WBCS( Dy Magistrate 6. STH members and engineers Mr UM Pradhan and Ms Gayatri Kharel


Monday, August 24, 2009

19Aug2009 : 189.2mm of rainfall and 3deaths

Case Study : Landslide situation around Kalimpong town (Aug2009)

“With rapid urbanization and a phenomenal growth of tourism, the Darjiling and Sikkim Himalayas have been experiencing an unprecedented rise in population since independence. Consequently, pressure on land is increasing with the gradual elimination of virgin forests. Unscientific and unplanned usages of land coupled with vulnerable geological structure and high rainfall have led to the establishment of vicious cycle of soil erosion and landslides. During or after every monsoon, landslides create havoc in the Darjiling-Sikkim Himalayas devastating human lives and properties.
As a result, the Darjiling-Sikkim Himalayas, one of the most densely populated tourist centers in such monsoon environments is on the verge of an environmental catastrophe so that just one concentrated shower of 50mm per hour could initiate landslides endangering innumerable local people and their properties”

- Subhas Ranjan Basu (University of Kolkata) and Sunil Kr De (University of Tripura)

1. Meteorological background.

While rainfall data for the months of May, June and July 2009 reveal that the district has had deficient rainfall, what is significant is that rainfall has been extremely erratic.
Thus, despite less precipitation, we have had major landslides this year coinciding with periods of intense, heavy rainfall:-

  • 24May-27May2009 - Cyclone Aila.
    Resulted in 27 deaths and major destruction in
    Darjeeling and Kurseong

  • 2July2009, 112mm of rain (in Kalimpong).
    Resulted in some deaths and a large number of landslides in Nimbong (Kalimpong sub-division).
  • 15Aug2009, 152mm of rain over 18hr period.
    Resulted in death and destruction in Kurseong and Kalimpong
  • 19Aug2009, 189.2mm of rainfall in Kalimpong.
    Resulted in major destruction in and around Kalimpong town and several deaths in Mirik,
    Kalimpong subdivision and Sikkim.

Historically speaking, most of the major landslides in Darjeeling district have occurred towards the end of the monsoons i.e. when the earth is saturated with water and the trigger for landslides is a burst of high intensity rainfall.
Thus, severe landslides occurred in the district in Sep1899, Oct1968 and Sep2007.
As such the urgent need for preparedness to deal with recurrence of such devastation during Aug-Oct 2009.

2. Landslide situation in areas surveyed after 19Aug2009.
Placed below is a report on the situation of the affected areas visited on 20/21/22Aug2009.

a) Chibo & Pashyor area.
A designated “sinking zone” for decades but which is densely populated now. As on date both these places remain isolated from Kalimpong town after road access and bridges were washed away on 19Aug09 by the many rivulets (jhoras) which plough through this area. Judging by the extent of damage, it is unlikely that these communication links can be restored quickly.
A large number of fast flowing jhoras/rivulets are the primary source of major landslides here though a contributory factor also may be the paddy cultivation in Chibo & Pashyor.

b) 7th Mile (Pachis Dhurey), 8th Mile (Shali Khop) area.
A number of houses at Pachis Dhurey are now vulnerable due to slopes which have been destabilized. In Shali khop, a large landslide became active in Sep2007 and has worsened this year after the heavy rains in Aug. The slide has decimated a road which connects several villages in the Nursery Gaon area of Shalikhop to the arterial road to Kalimpong town. The slide has also affected 3 fresh water sources which supply water to approx 100 houses in this neighbourhood.

c) Chota Bhalukhop area.
This is a densely populated zone lying below the sub-divisional Hospital and Macfarlane church complex. In Sep2007, there were major landslides (and two deaths) here caused by poor drainage. Despite having pointed this out, no work was done to change or improve the drainage over the last two years as such the torrential downpours in Aug09 resulted in numerous landslides in this area.
In view of the population density here, further landslides in this place could result in a large number of casualties.

d) Soureni village and Bara Bhalukhop area.
Rock falls at Soureni village originate at the crest of Deolo Hill. In view of the steepness of this place and size of rocks the only choice maybe to relocate this village in case of further landslides.
Bara Bhalukhop lies directly below Soureni and Tirpai and has several large landslides due to which a number of families have lost arable land. Comparatively, the population in this area is less than that in Chota Bhalukhop.

e) TV tower area and Tirpai.
The TV tower area (and Saipatri gaon) constitutes an old landslide area where there were a number of fatalities in the Oct1968 landslides.

In Sep2007, this area again became active forcing the people to take shelter in a nearby unoccupied shopping complex.
On 19Aug2009, there were a number of small landslides in this area; more would have certainly followed had the rain continued. So in view of the dense population, the area needs to be watched in case of heavy rain. The western face of Tirpai bazaar too has been destabilized with cracks and landslides occurring at numerous places along the ridge.

f) East Main Road area.
Lying on the eastern face of the Kalimpong ridge, this area was earlier very stable. In 2009, a number of rivulets / jhoras charged by run-off from built up places in Durpin (army cantonment zone) have ploughed up portions of this area and a number of landslides have occurred, especially, directly below Durpin. 3 bridge/culverts in this area have been destroyed by the rains in Aug09 and the drinking water source of a number of houses in the East Main Road area have been affected.

g) Bong bustee area.
Lying directly below (f), it was again one of the most stable areas of Kalimpong. The same drains or jhoras which have caused problems in (f) have caused a number of new landslides in Aug2009 especially in the vicinity of Bong church and Animal Shelter.

h) Sindebung.
This comprises of fertile farmland in the underbelly of Kalimpong. A serious landslide situation has existed here for many decades with numerous jhoras/rivulets from the town and Dr Graham’s Homes area dissecting these farmlands. Much farmland has been lost to landslides in the past and in Aug2009; the already serious situation has only become worse.

i) Dr Graham’s Homes, Dalapchand and 14th Mile areas.
Though there were major landslides in these areas in Sep2007, in Aug2009, they were relatively stable.

3. Conclusion

  • Cause of landslides.
    The cause of landslides is the high intensity of rainfall coupled with poor drainage.
    Over the years there has been a vast increase in urban/built up areas which has led to extremely high volume surface runoff water. The jhoras /rivulets which are fed by this water are simply incapable of handling this huge overload of high velocity water since no jhora/river training (and other landslide preventive) work has been carried out in the district for decades; this is leading to soil erosion and landslides on an unprecedented scale.
    This is compounded by the fact that many of the over populated vulnerable slopes appear to be where unplanned (illegal) settlements have mushroomed and where there is virtually no drainage.
    Thus the causes are largely anthropogenic
  • Damage assessment.
    It is apparent that in Aug2009, barring the town itself, almost all areas in the vicinity of Kalimpong town suffered damage equal to or more than Darjeeling did during Cyclone Aila (except for the fact that there was no major loss of life).
  • Prognosis.
    The intense bursts of rainfall on 15 and 19Aug09 have led to outright damage in many areas or a condition where one or more concentrated showers on a similar scale will lead to landslides in many structurally weakened slopes resulting in large scale loss of life and property – such susceptible areas exist in virtually all the zones mentioned above.
    With the monsoons expected to last until 12Oct2009 (as per IMetD), the likelihood of such high intensity rainfall recurring is very real.
  • Possible solutions.
    a) Whereas, firefighting (preventive) engineering measures such as retaining wall construction, drainage correction, river/jhora training etc are being resorted to, the sheer magnitude of damage will not permit meaningful work to be undertaken in all the vulnerable areas in the time available (Aug-Oct 09).
    It is therefore necessary to empower the communities to deal with the situation as best they can, if and when heavy and concentrated burst of rainfall occurs. This can only be achieved by carrying out an intense awareness campaign amongst the affected people on community based disaster risk management (CBDRM).
    c) Whereas SaveTheHills has been engaged in raising awareness about landslide hazards in the district for the past two years, it is urgently requested that NIDM carry out crash courses on this aspect, in Kalimpong immediately.
  • A word of caution.
    Not withstanding this, it goes without saying that all agencies/ NGOs involved in post disaster relief should remain on high alert should there be intense rain in the month or more that monsoons will be active in this region.

Comment by Praful Rao
I visited all the above areas between 20-22Aug2009 and have met scores of desperate, anxious people who spend sleepless nights whenever it starts raining. Even though I have written the conclusions, the views are not mine alone but those I have gleaned from the many discussions I have had with ordinary people and experts.
Lastly, the entire report has been mailed to the National Disaster Management Authority and District Magistrate (Darjeeling) amongst many others.

Monday, August 17, 2009

16Aug2009 : 152mm rainfall and 6 deaths

Kurseong August 16:

Five persons including a 9 year old girl died when a hill side came tumbling down at Gauri Shanker tea estate’s pandhura village 2 km from here, Lower sirubari area and Phagutar area near
Mahanadi last night due to the torrential rain that started occurring here since Saturday evening. The torrential rains have left all the three roads blocked, that connects Siliguri and Kurseong, at different points.

While Sachin Bhujel (32), Pratima Bhujel (30) and Urbashi Bhujel (9) are from a single Family another Kala Sherpa (40) is a resident of
Lower Sirubari in the same tea estate area. “The incident occurred around 1:30 last night when the rains were heavy. The hill side came tumbling down when the three Bhujel’s were sleeping at their house. The hills came down so fast that neither of the three could try to escape it seems,” said Padam Thami a resident of the area adding that the two cows of the Bhujel’s was also buried in the debris.

Report and photos of Kurseong by Bhushan Chettri, STH member of the same place
Comment by Praful Rao
As is evident from the previous post , our rainfall has been less than normal this year.
The worrying part is that a single day's rainfall amounting to approx 152mm can cause 6 deaths and numerous landslides all over the district.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

July Rainfall (2007-2009)

The variation in the rainfall pattern is extraordinary and for second consecutive year we are below our monthly average.

Comment by Praful Rao

My thanx to Ms Kanta Pradhan of Compuset, Gandhi Road, Darjeeling for the rainfall data.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

An article from 1998 meant for a photograph of 2009

Landslides are a part of the Himalaya environment because the slopes are weak and are made up of friable rocks. If the slopes were thickly forested, a major landslide would occur once in 20 to 30 years. With deforestation becoming the order of the day, minor landslides are occurring with ever increasing frequency. In 1984, a study conducted in the Himalaya revealed that more landslides took place in the deforested area than in the forested areas. The study found that 148 landslides took place on slopes where the tree cover was less than 40 per cent and 118 landslides took place where the tree cover was more than 60 per cent. Seismic movements are constantly taking place in the region. On an average about 200 earth-quakes of smaller magnitude occur every year in the hills of UP.

Going by the geological clock, the Himalaya is a "young" mountain range, and is prone to natural disasters. Experts also say that they are one of the most erosion prone ranges. Intense rainstorms and earthquakes make these mountains prone to frequent landslides. But it is intense rainfall that usually triggers landslides.
Prolonged downpour often reactivates old landslides. "The natural absence of vegetation in the higher reaches of the catchment areas also contributes to frequent landslides," says an expert. Apart from bringing down large quantities of sediments, landslides become a major cause for devastating floods because they block the narrow gorges. They are normally marked by a sudden change in the gradient of a tributary stream, constriction at the point of confluence and weak geological conditions in the catchment of the tributary. The formation of landslide dams is a common sight in the Himalaya.

Large scale deforestation and faulty farming practices have also led to soil erosion, according to local people. Says V Sharma, department of geology, Delhi University; "It is not for the first time that these landslides arc occurring. This time it has attracted attention due to the large scale of deaths and destruction". "Human activities need to be controlled since the region is prone to earthquakes. The government must plan development activities to check landslides," he adds. Ironically, the debris generated is thrown down the slopes, which in turn devours vegetation and even fields. Experts say that about 40,000 to 80,000 cubic metre of debris have to be removed to construct a road I km long. Moreover, 550 cubic metre of debris have to be removed every year to maintain the road.

The increase in human activities along the slopes has changed the existing land use pattern. Experts say that the change in the cultivation patterns is another factor for landslides. A large number of people have shifted to terrace farming. Terrace farming requires vast tracts of denuded land - and also lot of water. The crop pattern has also changed. Villagers now fall prey to the less soil-binding crops such as rice instead of millets, more suited to this area. Local crops like millets and maize have taken a back seat while commercial crops and water intensive crops like paddy are grown.This makes the hills unstable. Earlier, forests would have protected the strength of the soil, but due to excessive deforestation, the protective cover has been drastically reduced. This has resulted in the creation of large number of rivulets in the hilly region.

Source - Down to Earth (14Sep1998)

Photo credit : Suman Tamang (Darjeeling)

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Disaster Management Workshop at North Eastern Police Academy (NEPA), Shillong, Meghalaya (29Jul-31Jul2009)

I represented STH at a 3 day (29Jul-31Jul2009), Disaster Management capsule course conducted by NEPA (Umsaw, Shillong, Meghalaya) for police officers of the 8 NE states. The invitation was made by Director NEPA, Shri RR Verma (IPS) at the behest of Shri KM Singh, Member NDMA.
My talk was on "Landslide Prevention and Mitigation" and was well received by the 35 odd students who consisted of 18 police officers of the rank of Superindents/ Commandants and another 15 ab-initio trainees.
The other speakers included Shri KM Singh and Shri JK Sinha, both Members of the NDMA, officers of the National Disaster Response Force, a retired IG of Police and a scientist of the GeoHazard Society, Delhi.

Comment by Praful Rao
Raising awareness about landslide hazards is one of the primary roles of STH and the police force does have a pivotal role to play in any natural disaster, as such it was most apt that police officers should attend such a course.
My thanks to Shri KM Singh, Member NDMA for suggesting STH to NEPA, and also to Shri RR Verma (IPS), Director NEPA for the invitation.