Sunday, June 30, 2013

Breach on embankment of River Teesta at 29th Mile (Kalimpong) : 30Jun2013


What is of concern is that we have had deficient precipitation in the whole of Jun2013 and rainfall normally peaks in July and August before starting to decline in September. Not surprisingly,  many of  the major landslide disasters ( see 1, 2 , 3 ) have taken place late in the monsoon season.

Praful Rao,
Dist Darjeeling 

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Focus on Uttarakhand 4 - Images of Kedarnath temple area

Placed on top is an image of the Kedarnath temple before and after the GLOF. 

Placed below is a still from the animation of the National Remote Sensing Centre (NRSC), India

For those interested , there are some excellent articles on the 'Down To Earth' website on the Uttarakhand tragedy.

Praful Rao,

Darjeeling district

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Focus on Uttarakhand 3 : Extracts from UNDMT Situation Report (2) and a blog of repute

Source : Solution Exchange, UN

For readers interested in following the events in Uttarakhand along with expert analysis, I would strongly urge you to look up Dr David Petley's blog. It is here
Praful Rao,
District Darjeeling

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Focus on Uttarakhand 2

The untold story from Uttarakhand  by Ravi Chopra (Excerpt from 'The HINDU')

The impact of the floods on Uttarakhand’s tourism leads to larger questions of what kind of development Himalayan States should pursue. Before delving into that, it is important to understand the nature of the rainfall that deluged the State. Already several voices are arguing that the deluge is a random, ‘freak’ event. Odisha’s super cyclone in 1999, torrential rains in Mumbai in 2005, and now the Uttarakhand downpour constitute three clear weather related events in less than 15 years, each causing massive destruction or dislocation in India. These can hardly be called ‘freak’ events.
Several reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) have repeatedly warned that extreme weather incidents will become more frequent with global warming. We are already riding the global warming curve. We will have to take into account the likelihood of more frequent extreme weather events when planning for development, especially in the fragile Himalayan region where crumbling mountains become murderous.
In the 1990s, when the demand for a separate State gained momentum, at conferences, meetings, workshops and seminars, Uttarakhandi people repeatedly described the special character of the region. Consciousness created by the pioneering Chipko Andolan raised the hopes of village women that their new State would pursue a green development path, where denuded slopes would be reforested, where fuel wood and fodder would be plentiful in their own village forests, where community ownership of these forests would provide their men with forest products-based employment near their villages instead of forcing them to migrate to the plains, where afforestation and watershed development would revive their dry springs and dying rain-fed rivers, and where the scourge of drunken, violent men would be overcome.
Year after year — in cities, towns and villages — they led demonstrations demanding a mountain state of their own. Theirs was a vision of development that would first enhance the human, social and natural capital of the State. Recalling the tremendous worldwide impact of the Chipko movement, Uttarakhandi women dreamed of setting yet another example for the world of what people-centric development could look like.
But in the 13 years after statehood, the leadership of the State has succumbed to the conventional model of development with its familiar and single-minded goal of creating monetary wealth. With utter disregard for the State’s mountain character and its delicate ecosystems, successive governments have blindly pushed roads, dams, tunnels, bridges and unsafe buildings even in the most fragile regions.
In the process, denuded mountains have remained deforested, roads designed to minimise expenditure rather than enhance safety have endangered human lives, tunnels blasted into mountainsides have further weakened the fragile slopes and dried up springs, ill-conceived hydropower projects have destroyed rivers and their ecosystems, and hotels and land developers have encroached on river banks.
Yes, wealth has been generated but the beneficiaries are very few — mainly in the towns and cities of the southern terai plains and valleys where production investments have concentrated. In the mountain villages, agricultural production has shrivelled, women still trudge the mountain slopes in search of fodder, fuel wood and water, and entire families wait longingly for an opportunity to escape to the plains.
Last week’s floods have sounded an alarm bell. To pursue development without concern for the fragile Himalayan environment is to invite disaster. Eco-sensitive development may mean a slower monetary growth rate but a more sustainable and equitable one.
(The writer is Director, People’s Science Institute, Dehra Dun and Member (Expert), National Ganga River Basin Authority)
The full article is here
 Praful Rao,
Darjeeling district.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Darjeeling & Sikkim - queuing up for the next 'Himalayan Tsunami'

Do you notice the uncanny similarity between images of the 'Himalayan Tsunami' of mid-Jun2013 (placed on the LHS) and those from the Darjeeling - Sikkim Himalaya (on RHS)?

Here are 10 reasons why the Darjeeling - Sikkim Himalaya could also suffer the same fate as Uttarakhand :-
  • Our geographical location on the southern most part of the Himalayan arc is unique. As such the Darjeeling – Sikkim Himalaya is situated barely 800km north of the Bay of Bengal, which brews up 5-7 cyclones or depressions annually.
  • Due to our location, our average annual rainfall is approx 3000mm, double that of Uttarakhand (1523mm) and 3 X the national average.
  • Rainfall pattern has shown a perceptible change in the recent past – extremes in rainfall being more the norm than an exception (In May2013 we had double the monthly rainfall but Jun2013 has been largely dry till date)
  • We have a long history of landslide disasters viz Sep 1899, Jun 1950, Oct 1968, Sep 2007, Cyclone AILA in May 2009 and 18Sep2011 (earthquake induced).
  • Geological Survey of India (or GSI, the nodal Govt. body looking after landslides in India) categorizes our area as amongst the most landslide prone in the country.
  • In the recent past, there has been phenomenal developmental activity much of which has been unplanned and haphazard, paying scant heed to building codes etc.
    More than 30 dams have been constructed or are planned in the Teesta river basin.
    Also the tremendous rural to urban migration has resulted in our major towns showing signs of severe distress with basic civic facilities such as potable water, public latrines, solid waste management and most importantly, drainage being on the verge of collapse. Densely populated colonies have sprung up on unstable and unsafe slopes.
    Non-engineered roads constructed on a massive scale all over the region by poorly trained or unemployed petty contractors will be a major cause of landslides in the future.
  • Both Darjeeling and Sikkim have large scale influx of tourists, many more than the pilgrims who were caught up in the Uttarakhand disaster.
  • Densely populated settlements and towns such as Rangpo, Singtam, Majitar, Melli, Jorethang have comeup along banks of rivers ie Teesta and Rangit.
  • As population increases, forest cover has reduced all over the region
  • Even after the earthquake of 18Sep2011, disaster management has received little priority in this region.
    Photo credits of Darjeeling/Sikkim :
    Kundan Yolmo, Sikkim Express, Das Studio
    Photos from Uttarakhand obtained from the internet.
Praful Rao,
Darjeeling District.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

STH storm watch : Reporting a low pressure area in the Bay of Bengal (23Jun2013 - 0530h IST)

As a part of STH storm watch we monitor the activity in the Bay of Bengal continuously during the monsoons  so as to forewarn readers and communities about the formation, movement and intensity of weather systems which may affect us.
Today IMD states :

"The low pressure area now lies over Odisha and adjoining areas of northwest Bay of Bengal associated cyclonic circulation extending upto 7.6 km a.s.l. tilting southwestwards with height."

Praful Rao,

Friday, June 21, 2013

' The Winter of Discontent in Uttarakhand ' - an article by Dr RK Bhandari

The Winter of Discontent in Uttarakhand
In John Steinbeck’s last novel 'The Winter of Discontent', I find at least three phrases which make my heart weep in the thick of the ghastly landslide and flood tragedy in Uttarakhand. It is a tragedy that right now stares my country in the face. Steinbeck said “I shall revenge myself in the cruelest way you can imagine. I shall forget it.” We shall also forget this for we seem to have lost our faculty to remember! He said,” It’s so much darker when a light goes out than it would have been if it had never shone.” We too are used to living in darkness perhaps because the darkness is not yet dark enough for us to see the stars. Finally, we agree with Steinbeck that “To be alive at all is to have scars” because we have these in plenty and we have to close our eyes if we do not wish to see the writing on the wall!

We have repeatedly failed the people of disaster-torn India, always leaving them high and dry in the times of disasters. It is not for the first time that floods and landslides have ravaged Uttarakhand. We may have forgotten the devastating episodes of 2010 and 2012, the great Alaknanda Tragedy of July 1970 and the great Malpa tragedy of 18 August 1998 but the victims of those tragedies are still bleeding. When the great Alaknanda tragedy struck, I know from personal knowledge that the blame for landslides and floods at once went to the cloudburst because that was the easiest thing for us to do. It is true that when the Alaknanda Tragedy struck in July 1970, the previous maxima of 200mm rainfall recorded at Joshimath on 28 September 1924 was crossed by an all time high rainfall of 212.8mm which occurred in 20 hours of time between 2pm of 20 July 1970 and 8am of 21 July 1970 . It is no less true however that we were not quite honest in throwing the entire blame to the cloud burst when the real blame should have gone to our utter failure of putting a full stop to plundering of environment, mindless urbanization, non-engineered constructions of roads, buildings, reservoirs and dams, and indiscriminate and often illegal mining and quarrying of natural resources. Rather than admitting our blunders and learning lessons in humility, is it not a shame that we keep attributing tragedy after tragedy to more or less the very same reason - cloud burst, which is no more than the last straw that breaks the camel’s back. Let us never forget that excessive rainfalls, in this age of climate change , belong to normal life of fragile eco-systems across the globe and unless we mend our ways and manage our lands with the care they deserve , every tragedy will be an early warning for the next in line.

History is replete with examples of our shedding crocodile tears and looking for photo-opportunities, in distribution of relief and paying lip sympathy to the devastated families without an ounce of repentance and penance. The pain in our hearts cannot be gauged when we face corpses that litter our lands. It will show up on our faces only when we lose ourselves in preparing for the worst of the tragedies in the normal times. How nice it would be if the Prime Minister of India were to announce Rs 1000 crore right now for the North East of India telling the Chief Ministers that they will be held accountable if the repeat of 1897 earthquake in Shillong ,were to end up in a catastrophe we perceive. By the way, as far as the seismologists are concerned, a repeat of the great Shillong earthquake is not a matter of IF, but WHEN? Unfortunately, after the dust of a disaster settles down, we simply move into the comfort zone and monotonically continue with our business as usual until the next disaster knocks our door.

When the National Disaster Management Authority was created in December 2005, by an Act of Parliament, we sold the dream of a paradigm shift to the culture of prevention from the relief-centric approach to disaster management. When the Planning Commission added a Chapter on Disaster Management in the Five Year Plan document, we expressed our commitment to integration of disaster management with development planning. When the devastating earthquake hit the state of Gujarat on the Republic day of 2001, we vowed to take a pro-active stance and sanctioned projects which were supposed to deliver earthquake and landslide hazard zonation maps to help architects, engineers and builders ensure safer constructions. If any such thing has happened, I am not aware. If yes, why do we not see a single validated and certified earthquake hazard or landslide hazard zonation map in use by architects, planners and disaster managers anywhere in this huge country? If no, who all are accountable?

Why have we failed to deliver safety to our people in this case? The question may look difficult but its answer is simple. Our systems, institutions and disaster management apparatuses have failed us. India has created a number of institutions with best of the intentions but these institutions are merely solo players within their own close boundary walls and live within comfort zones without accountability. In managing disasters, we need orchestra play. Does anybody in the public even today know that Geological Survey of India is the officially designated nodal agency for landslides in the country, a move which was fiercely opposed by me at the highest level calling it as a historic blunder. This was not because geology is not critical in landslide studies or Geological Survey of India has not done great things but because a multi-disciplinary field of landslide disasters is not its cup of tea. If they are the responsible agency, we should have seen them facing the heat?

Disaster management remains a budding subject on which everybody seems to behave like an expert until the disaster actually hits. In the stampede for the front-rows of visibility in the normal times, those responsible for disaster management often forget that by not doing their jobs well and in running the race merely for paltry gains, they are trampling over the lives and future of the very people who regard them as their beacon of hope in the times of crisis. The political masters usually step-in from nowhere to direct the relief operations from their high chairs, primed by the poorly-informed bureaucrats in attendances trying to save their own skins from the failure to prevent the disaster. The rapid-action-forces, army and agencies like the Border Roads Organization remain our only hope but how much they can do when Rome is already burning.

Our people need to be made aware. If we fail to feed in right information to the right people at the right time, the astrologers will naturally fault the stars and the journalists will naturally report what they can pick from the heaps of confusion. Now when we know what ails our system, let’s join hands and unitedly fix it. In states like Uttarakhand, where disasters repeat frequently, highest order of expertise is required to advise the government on matters connected with formulation of policy, practice of engineering, selection of technology, capacity building and training. Like Uttarakhand, our country has many states which are affected by more than one type of disaster. Imagine if another disaster, natural or man-made were to strike our mother land at this moment when we stand fully exhausted.


Prof RK Bhandari is a distinguished alumnus from IIT Mumbai, a Fellow of Indian National Academy of Engineering  and a recipient of the coveted Varne’s Medal for Excellence in Research and Practice of Landslides.

Praful Rao,


Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Focus on Uttarakhand

"I do believe that the time has come for a paradigm shift in disaster management from a 'relief-centric' and 'post-event' response, to a regime that lays greater emphasis on preparedness, prevention and mitigation"
-  Dr Manmohan Singh
Prime Minister
1st India Disaster Management Congress (29Nov2006)
Vigyan Bhavan
New Delhi

STH has been following the events in Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh (HP) states of India closely.
The death toll has notched up steadily and now stands at 130 with 500 people missing and  73,000 (many of them pilgrims visiting  holy Hindu places in the mountains) stranded at many places.

Here are some facts on the rainfall :-
  •  Most of the rainfall came down between 15-17Jun2013.
  •  Dehradun recorded an astounding 338mm of rainfall in 24hrs on 17Jun2013 (see AWS data above).
  • For the period 01Jun-18Jun2013, Uttarakhand rainfall was 440% above the normal and that of HP was 316% above normal (see map above). 
  • In these 18 days, Uttarakhand and HP have received more than 31% and 20% of the rainfall for the entire 4 month monsoon period.
  • The monsoons have just started and we still have more than 3 months of heavy rains ahead and extreme events, the world over are becoming more frequent!
Having followed this keenly, I am filled with a sense of dread because we went thru this entire grim scenario last year when Uttarakhand was battered by rain and landslides in August and Sep2012.
Meanwhile, the blame game has started. But living in a land where destiny, fate and karma can just as easily be held culpable, I doubt if we will ever get down to a more serious way of managing our disasters.
Pity, we never seem to learn and the PM's wonderful words, spoken 7 yrs ago in the 1st India Disaster Congress ring hollow.

Praful Rao,

Friday, June 14, 2013

A tale of two Summits (SMDS III and MGDA-11).

For further information on the above see links here (for Sustainable Development Summit III) and here for MGDA-11.

Praful Rao,

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

STH stormwatch (12Jun2013) : Reporting a low pressure area in the Bay of Bengal

"Under the influence of upper air cyclonic circulation over northwest Bay of Bengal, a low pressure area has formed over northwest Bay of Bengal and associated cyclonic circulation extends upto mid­ tropospheric levels tilting southwestwards with height."

Comment by Praful Rao
STH stormwatch is a procedure started many years ago where we use broadband internet to keep a close watch on the adverse weather activities in the Bay of Bengal with a view to forewarn communities on the formation of any adverse weather in the Bay and its movement.

Friday, June 7, 2013

About Dams .... and landslides.

Recently two interesting articles have appeared about dams and their impact on mountain environments.

Placed below is an excerpt quoting a CAG report on dams and its adverse effects on mountain ecology

Hydro projects causing degeneration of hill ecology: CAG
By Vishal Gulati | IANS India Private Limited – Wed 5 Jun, 2013
Shimla, June 5 (IANS)
'The hydropower projects in Himachal Pradesh -- in private and public sectors -- are not only gobbling up forests but also damaging natural resources, the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) has found.
The compensatory afforestation by the state is highly deficient as 58 percent of the test-checked hydropower projects reported no afforestation at all, the CAG said in its recent report.
It pointed out that lack of re-greening of hills poses severe hazards both to natural ecology and stabilisation of hill slopes……………….

Environmentalist R.S. Negi, who heads the Him Lok Jagriti Manch, a people's movement against upcoming hydro projects in Kinnaur district, told IANS: "The hydro projects are destructive not only to the rivers but also to traditional water channels."
"Before allocating any new project in the entire Himalayan region that falls in seismic zone-IV and the more severe zone-V, the government should first undertake carrying capacity and cumulative impact assessment of the projects," he said.'

The full article is here

Excerpt from another article on Large Dams and Landslides by Dr David Petley is below :-
'The interesting thing here is the paucity of large dams in and around the Himalayan chain (and indeed the Andes).  As I have shown before, the Himalayas are really the global epicentre for landslide activity, so this is the environment that requires the highest level of care with respect to landslide problems. The map below homes in on the Himalayas, again with a DEM as the backdrop:

You will see that there are two types of symbol shown here. The circles with dots in the centre are locations in which my database indicates there have been fatality-inducing landslides associated with large dams in the last ten years. These are mostly landslides at dam construction sites or landslides that have impacted the camps housing employees associated with dam construction or operation. There are a surprising number of landslides given the numbers of dams in this part of the world. This suggests to me that we are not managing landslides properly in this part of the world. …….

My sense is that we are pushing our luck to the limit with the planned dams in and around the Himalayan Arc. The question as to whether these dams should be built at all is important but beyond the scope of this blog. However, the potential landslide problems in these areas are acute and will require a much higher level of management than appears to be occurring at present'

The full article is here

Italics in the above articles are mine.

Praful Rao,

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Rainfall data May2013 and a brief analysis.

Compared to a parched May2012 where almost the entire Darjeeling district ran deficient in rainfall, May2013 was a month where nearly all of Sikkim and Darjeeling district had more than our share of precipitation.
This was perhaps due to two major weather systems which formed in the Bay of Bengal and moved of inland; Cyclone Mahasen brushed past Kolkata on15May2013 and made landfall in Bangladesh while a depression crossed the coast, south east of Kolkata and headed northwest before dying out in the last week of May2013.
In contrast, all was quiet in the Bay of Bengal in May2012.
Also on 30May2013 following incessant, heavy rain we had our first landslide fatality this year, (in Darjeeling town) along with a number of landslides all over Darjeeling  district.

Praful Rao,