I recently came across a study done primarily on major US media networks titled 'How many deaths does it take for a disaster to receive news coverage' (Source: Eisensee and Stromberg (2007)). The two authors found out that for every person killed by a volcano 882 people have to die of landslides to receive the same coverage in US televised news. This creates dangerous biases and affects the attention given to landslides as a disaster. Disasters like landslides are less 'spectacular', with fewer dramatic stories and therefore not documented. Though the data is for the US media networks there are many examples of how landslides have been ignored in our region as well. To refer to a recent instance, we documented how the landslide in Pathing was overlooked for over 3 months which caused severe distress to the lives and livelihood of the people there. You can view the videos here.
Visions of Hell
SaveTheHills(STH) is a group of concerned citizens who are raising awareness about landslides in Darjeeling-Sikkim Himalaya. Many landslides are the direct or indirect result of human interference and preventable if sufficient care is taken. As such, unless we begin a comprehensive and sustained program towards landslide management, prevention and mitigation, the consequences of ignoring years of human callousness will, in the future be devastating.
Sunday, March 5, 2023
Silences and biases in media and academic reporting of Landslide Disasters
Sunday, February 26, 2023
ChatGPT's essay on 'Hazards in the Himalayas'
Having heard so much about AI and ChatGPT, I decided to try it out and asked it to write a 1000word essay on 'Hazards in the Himalayas'.
Of course, I gave it many key words to keep it focused on the topic. I think it has done a marvelous job even though raw data is missing. Here it is:
"The Himalayan mountain range, stretching across several countries, is one of the most majestic and awe-inspiring natural wonders of the world. However, this magnificent landscape is also incredibly fragile and vulnerable to a wide range of hazards that pose significant risks to human life and livelihoods. From tectonic movements and seismic risks to heavy rainfall, extreme weather, and climate change, the Himalayas face a variety of hazards that require careful management and mitigation.
One of the most significant hazards facing the Himalayas is the risk of seismic activity. The region sits on a major fault line, making it highly vulnerable to earthquakes and other tectonic movements. The seismic risk in the Himalayas is further amplified by the fact that the mountains themselves are relatively new, having formed only in the last 50 million years or so. This means that the rocks and other geological features in the region are still relatively unstable and prone to shifting and moving over time.
The heavy rainfall and extreme weather conditions that are common in the Himalayas are also a significant hazard for those living in the region. In particular, cloud bursts, which can dump huge amounts of water in a short period of time, can lead to devastating flooding and landslides. These events are becoming increasingly common as a result of climate change, which is causing more extreme weather patterns in the region.
Human interference in the form of unplanned constructions, dams, and road construction is also a major hazard for the Himalayas. These activities can disrupt natural drainage patterns, increase the risk of landslides, and alter the fragile ecosystem of the region. In particular, the Uttarakhand disaster of 2013, which was triggered by unplanned construction and deforestation, highlighted the risks posed by such activities in the region.
Rapid population growth in the region is also creating new hazards for the Himalayas. As more and more people move into the region, there is increasing pressure on natural resources, leading to conflicts over water, food, and other basic needs. This is particularly true in areas where water sources are already scarce, leading to drying springs and water insecurity.
The Himalayas are also home to a rich diversity of wildlife, including endangered species such as the snow leopard and the Himalayan black bear. However, human-wildlife conflict is becoming increasingly common in the region as a result of habitat loss and other pressures. This conflict can lead to serious risks for both humans and animals, as well as damage to crops and other livelihoods.
Despite the many hazards facing the Himalayas, there are steps that can be taken to mitigate these risks and ensure the long-term sustainability of the region. For example, improved land-use planning and management can help to reduce the risks of landslides and other natural disasters. Similarly, efforts to conserve natural resources and protect wildlife habitats can help to reduce conflicts and promote greater ecological stability.
At the same time, it is important to recognize that the challenges facing the Himalayas are complex and multifaceted. Addressing these challenges will require a comprehensive approach that takes into account the diverse needs and perspectives of the region's many stakeholders. This means engaging with local communities, governments, NGOs, and other actors to develop strategies and solutions that are both effective and sustainable.
In conclusion, the hazards facing the Himalayas are numerous and significant, but they are not insurmountable. By working together to address these challenges, we can help to ensure the long-term sustainability of this remarkable natural wonder. Whether through improved land-use planning, wildlife conservation, or other measures, it is up to all of us to take action to protect the Himalayas and the people and animals who call it home.
Darjeeling- Sikkim Himalayas
Tuesday, February 14, 2023
STH activities in Jan2023: Awareness programs with students from the USA on 03 & 21Jan2023
One of the main roles of STH is to raise awareness about the landslide and environmental issues of this region and we do this thru the year, and year after year at various levels, starting with the grassroots in remote villages to talking at the national level.
We did this again this year with students from Framingham State University and then Colby College on the 03 & 21Jan2023 at Anu and Rajiv's place in Deolo, Kalimpong.
Darjeeling - Sikkim Himalaya
Sunday, February 12, 2023
Brainstorming discussion on “Landslides and Human Environment: A New Approach to the Study of Fault related Hazards in Himalayan Towns” : 11Feb2023
The programMOES PAMC, Geosciences online workshop was phenomenal and had a huge collection of scientific minds and expertise from many organizations and spheres (see above) talking about landslides and providing early warning on this hazard.
I had the honour of giving a brief run up on the 'Landslide situation in the vicinity of Kalimpong town' after which the 5 hr brainstorming session began. The entire program was moderated by Prof Malay Mukul of IIT Mumbai (Dept of Earth Sciences).
The projects hopes to look at Himalayan towns in the long term especially along fault zones and use the latest sciences towards creating a safer environment as regards landslides in the mountains.
My deep thanks to Prof Malay Mukul for taking this initiative and especially for choosing Kalimpong as place of study.
Friday, February 3, 2023
STH Landslide documentaries being featured in Film Festival on 'Exploring Risk', at Durham University (U.K) -16/17Feb2023
We just received news that the Institute of Hazard, Risk, and Resilience at Durham University (UK) is hosting 'The Exploring Risk 2023 Film Festival' on the 16/17Feb2023 and that they would like to feature our 2 documentaries on the Pathing Landslides during the film festival.
I am extremely proud that they have chosen to do so and am planning to make another documentary during the monsoons of 2023 on the 'Impact of Landslide Disasters on Rural Communities' (subject to fund availability).
Rural communities are the forgotten lot in landslide disasters, with all the focus and media attention going to landslides on communication lines such as roads and highways and to those in urban centers. In such a scenario, hardly anyone pays heed to smaller landslides which nibble away unnoticed in rural areas, destroying livelihoods and farmlands.
Update as on 15Feb2023
Please register with the link below
Friday, January 13, 2023
Why we should tread softly in the Himalayas...Pakyong, Sikkim, Nov2017
While the sinking of Joshimath, in large part due to human activities has caught the attention of the nation, I was witness to a similar event in another Himalayan state,ie Sikkim caused by anthropogenic activity which has now been largely forgotten.
Pakyong airport, 30 km from Gangtok at an elevation 4590ft (1399m)was inaugurated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on 24Sept 2018. It was constructed by the Airport Authority of India (AAI) at an estimated cost of Rs 605 crore and was touted be an "engineering marvel" for its soil reinforcement and slope stabilization techniques keeping in view the altitude it was built at.
inauguration, only Spicejet operated a Bombardier Q -400 on the Kolkata -Pakyong route and under Visual Flight Rules since there no navigational aids or
radar at the airport which will permit IFR flight.
Building the airport caused severe distress to the slopes around the airport and the landslide problem in the area has been adequately documented by Dr Dave Petley in his blog here.
I visited Pakyong on 05Nov2017 and met some local contacts who said almost 164 buildings/homes large and small, located below and around the runway had been damaged due to the sinking caused by the airport construction.
I have placed images of buildings being dismantled and other images of Pakyong airport below:
I took these photos in Nov2017 and after that I have not visited Pakyong.
What I know from media reports is that adequate compensation has been doled out to all the affected people there so there is silence from that end.
What I am not sure is about the health of the mountain because I believe the runway is under repair/ extension.
No flights have operated to/from Pakyong for some time now, for reasons unknown to me.
Wednesday, December 21, 2022
What landslides do to people: A home at Sherpa Gaon (village), Lava (Kalimpong district, W Bengal) on 28Oct2021 and 20Dec2022
This landslide at Sherpa Gaon (Lava, Kalimpong) occurred on 19Oct2021 at 3am, following two consecutive days of heavy rain. We met the owner Mr Wangdi Sherpa during our landslide survey on 28Oct2021 and reported on the slide in our canva database of landslides
A carcass of a home is remaining.
Tuesday, December 13, 2022
Pathing landslides gets a full feature on Prof Dave Petley's Landslide Blog
Prof Dave Petley's Landslide Blog is perhaps the most widely read 'online magazine' on Landslide Hazards in the world.
So it is wonderful that our reports on the Pathing Landslides as well as our two videos have been featured in a full length post on his blog yesterday.
The link is here
Meanwhile as I write the rockfalls and the landslide at Pathing continue relentlessly; the good thing is that the villagers and their livestock have shifted out of harms way even though their homes are still being pulverized by rocks.
I hope our efforts in highlighting their plight (and the plight of so many other rural communities which are affected by this very under-rated disaster form) will help them in some way.
Saturday, December 10, 2022
Mapping rainfall in our region: NEW (DAVIS) AWS at Todey Village in Kalimpong station and location of Automatic Weather Stations (DAVIS) and Manual Rainfall Gauges.
STH has been monitoring rainfall in our region for many years now and we publish these records each month in this blog.
The above map shows the location of 6 DAVIS AWS in our region which will give real time weather information 24 X 7 and also the location of 4 manual rainfall gauge stations.
Real time weather includes
- Temperature (outdoor and indoor, max and min temp, graphical data)
- Rain (current rain, 24hrs rain, monthly rain, yearly rain, intensity of rain in mm/hr)
- Wind data ( 10min average, gusts and graphical data)
- Barometric pressure (& graphical representation of variation)
- Weather forecast.
How to get real time weather from the AWS
In order to get the real time weather from the 6 DAVIS AWS stations:
- Download and install the 'WEATHERLINK Davis Instruments' app from Google play store.
- You may have to register.
- Search for Davis weather stations in Kalimpong, Gangtok and so on and save them.
Darjeeling -Sikkim Himalaya
Sunday, December 4, 2022
Raising awareness on impact of landslides on rural communities
Landslides are a cunning disaster form.
They mostly nibble and therefore their impact is not openly evident and it is often under-valued by governments and disaster management professionals alike.
Landslides are also very localized so one hill maybe totally stable and its people ignorant of the devastation being caused by landslides on an adjacent hill or mountain.
Add to this the fact that remote mountain communities seldom speak out and suffer in silence.
In an effort to raise awareness about this disaster form, SaveTheHills along with Junkeri Studio (Kalimpong) has produced two documentaries on the impact of the landslide at Pathing, a village about which we have blogged a few days earlier.
The links are placed below:
- Gaguney Landslide (Part I) : Pathing (South Sikkim, India), a village on the edge
- Gaguney landslide (Part II) : Pathing (South Sikkim, India), a village on the move
STH would like to thank the people of Pathing village and Yangyang and also all those who helped us make these documentaries.
Darjeeling - Sikkim Himalaya