Friday, June 20, 2008

A lesson in landslide prevention...

Placed below is an excerpt from "The Telegraph", dated 20Jun08

Self-help to fight landslides

Kalimpong, June 19: Residents of Alainchikhop and Chota Bhalukhop here have pulled in money to put in place a functioning drainage system in their localities to avert landslides, which many believe are certain to strike the hills this monsoon.

The initiative was taken after repeated appeals to the government on the impending disaster elicited no response.

Phurba Tshering Bhutia of Alainchikhop said: “We managed to collect about Rs 1.10 lakh from 67 houses to construct a network of drains to flush out rain water. Having averted a near disaster last monsoon, we did not want to take any chances this time round.”

Their neighbours in Chota Bhalukhop and surrounding areas took advantage of the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha’s indefinite bandh in the hills to clean the drains in the area. Today, volunteers cleared the drain that runs from below the Kalimpong subdivisional hospital to the Mane Jhora. Yesterday, they had tackled the drain from McFarlane Church to Daragoan.

Experts said the entire area is prone to landslides because of the high concentration of population in certain patches coupled with the terrain and the inadequate drainage facility. Last September, three persons died in a landslide in Bhalukhop.

Members of various welfare associations of Alainchikhop had made representations to the government at different levels, including one before the chief minister, but to no avail.

“Frankly, the choice for us was either to do the job ourselves, or wait for the government-supplied tarpaulin,” said Bishnu Chhetri, the adviser to Dumping Ground Development Committee, referring to the tarpaulin sheets the relief department hands out to landslide-victims.

Praful Rao, the convener of Save The Hills, an NGO, accused both the DGHC authorities and the Bengal government of turning a deaf ear to the plight of the hill residents.

“At a time when the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) is talking about a paradigm shift from a relief-centric approach to one that lays emphasis on prevention, preparedness and mitigation, the authorities here have not moved a stone in this regard despite repeated appeals in the past eight months,” said Rao.

“Sadly, the NDMA officials told me that our problem needed to be first taken up by the state government before they could intervene. Since that is unlikely to happen, I will continue making our case at every available forum and at meetings with every level of the government,” Rao added.

The residents of Alainchikhop and Bhalukhop, too, seemed resigned to taking care of their own fate. “We are just a few days into the monsoon and already landslides have started occurring. I dread what fate awaits us in the next couple of months,” said Bhutia.

In the past few days, rain-triggered landslides have damaged houses in the Darjeeling and Kurseong subdivisions. Although no one died, a number of families had to be evacuated in Kurseong.


Comment by praful rao

Though we may not be able to undertake huge projects in landslide prevention, I think community participation in Disaster Management in the years ahead will be vital - waiting for government action may at times be futile and even when they do act, community involvement will remain a key factor in landslide prevention.

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