Increasing Landslides

Source: The Hitavada      Date: 02 Sep 2018 11:30:37


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

By ANSHUMAN BHARGAVA,

 

Many environmentalists are blaming development activities and poor vegetation for this phenomenon. Landslides induced by extreme rainfall also depend on the initial water content (antecedent), geological local terrain settings and regional factors.

 


The reasons can be multiple but the role of excessive human interference with nature cannot be ruled out. Technological intervention can stem the damage to an extent but unless environment protection measures are taken up, landslides and other unpredictable natural catastrophes can always occur.

 

LANDSLIDES are common in Uttarakhand, especially during the heavy monsoon rains in the July-August-September period. Thousands of people die every year due to this natural calamity, hundreds of vehicles and houses get destroyed and many families are marooned.
But what has left scientists worried is the increase in the number of such phenomena in recent years. Over 5,300 people were killed in landslides since 2000 when the mountain State was formed. Recently, the public works department (PWD) identified 39 zones across the State that are prone to landslides.


Nine of these zones are being undertaken by the Union Roads and Transport Ministry for mitigation while the State PWD is working on 21 sites with funds from the Asian Development Bank. The detailed project report of the remaining 9 zones is underway. To save these areas from landslides, various steps like gabion walls, wire mesh, rock bolting and other steps are taken depending on their location.


Despite all these efforts, landslides - big or small - are reported every now and then. A landslide in May on Badrinath route blocked movement of over 14,000 pilgrims. According to the latest disaster management and mitigation centre (DMMC) report released recently, Dharasu band between Rishikesh and Yamunotri -NH 94 is blocked due to landslide and Border Road Organisation (BRO) is working on it.


Dehradun district has reported blockage in 11 motor roads, particularly in remote Chakrata block. Forty roads are blocked in Pauri district, 5 in Tehri, Rishikesh-Badrinath highway in Lambagad is blocked while 25 roads are blocked in Chamoli, 11 in Nainital, 12 in Champawat, 6 in Almora and 10 in Pithoragarh, the DMMC report said. There are various reasons being attributed to these landslides.


Rain is certainly a major reason but the triggers are different. A paper on geomorphology published in Science Elsevier in January 2017 highlights, “Landslides can happen when rainfall amount reaches over a particular threshold of 155, 212, or 290 mm making the slopes almost saturated.” However, many environmentalists are blaming development activities and poor vegetation for this phenomenon. Landslides induced by extreme rainfall also depend on the initial water content (antecedent), geological local terrain settings and regional factors.


Besides rains, scientists blame weak topsoil for the frequent occurrence of landslides. The Uttarakhand Government in August 2016 signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Japan International Cooperation Agency to study and mitigate landslides in the State.


Under this programme, three sites have been identified in Rudraprayag, Rishikesh and Nainital where Japanese method of restricting landslides would be adopted in coming years. Activist Anil Kumar Joshi, known as Mountain Man, blames development activities behind this occurrence. “Road construction in the vulnerable
valley is the main reason why it (landslide) is happening. No steps are taken to secure the sensitivity of mountains,” he said. Others blame poor vegetation.


“The vegetation in hills isn’t enough to hold the topsoil which results in erosion,” said environmentalist Vikrant Tongad, who raised the issue of pollution by rafting and camping in white waters. “The Government must take immediate steps to plant trees with deep roots so that we could at least avoid this occurrence in coming years,” Tongad said.


Thus, the reasons can be multiple but the role of excessive human interference with nature cannot be ruled out. Technological intervention can stem the damage to an extent but unless environment protection measures are taken up, landslides and other unpredictable natural catastrophes can always occur.


With years of unbridled ‘development’ we have already ended up with a very fragile and vulnerable environment around us and any little imbalance can tip the scale. We have already seen such instances of weather extremities. Landslides, earthquakes, floods, droughts, storms, forest fires, heat waves etc have only increased over the last few decades and more people are dying than ever before since populations globally have multiplied unprecedentedly.


More the population, greater is the danger to nature and environment due to expanding the sphere of human activities and newer areas of settlement that changes the geographical and topographical makeup of the regions people spread into. This is a global phenomenon but in India, due to her higher density of population and economic backwardness, the implications are more pronounced and more intense in their damage. Indian population is thus more vulnerable to weather aberrations and accordingly, we need to safeguard our interests. Denudation of the hills has been rampant and reckless in the last two decades.


Hotels and resorts have been built randomly with little consideration for environment norms. Roads have been cut across hills with loose gravel and soft soil that can’t even hold trees. This has made the hills weak and brittle. Increased movement of vehicles further weakens them. Trekking, camping and other human activities on the hills also cause environmental damage. Government regulations have been thrown to the winds. There are laws and rules but they are hardly followed or implemented.


This is the case across the nation; not something specific to Uttarakhand. In Kashmir, Bengal, Kerala and Himachal too, the situation is no different. While we have seen business and prosperity and ran in its mad pursuit, we have forgotten the need to preserve nature and its sanctity. Today, nature is taking its sweet revenge. So much damage has already been wrought despite repeated warnings by scientists and environmental groups that even technology can’t be adequate to end all the problems nature poses before us today.


The only way is to change our habits and relations with nature. We need to stop all further constructions in the hilly regions. We need to regulate the number of vehicles that move there.


We need to check water, air and noise pollution that damage the pristine ecosystems. We need to have more trees to replenish the lost ones. We need to lessen carbon footprints by taking eco-friendly measures. We simply need more nature and fewer humans. We have no right to disturb the equilibrium of nature that is brought in by human audacity.


Locals have to be made aware and involved in restoration measures. Locals have a big constructive role to play if they get the right training and resources. Their consciousness and alertness can save a lot of damage. Leaders need to be proactive in bringing this change. They have the power and influence and they must use them here to give direction to people’s thoughts and ways of life.