Sunday, April 26, 2009

A page out of ISDR

International Strategy for Disaster Reduction

Main participants in early warning systems

Many groups are important to disaster early warning systems – public officials, community and business leaders, NGOs, scientists, academics, teachers, the media, community leaders, and of course householders. The best early warning systems find ways to link all these groups and to facilitate their cooperation.

Ultimately, early warning systems succeed or fail depending on community involvement. Too often the populations at risk are not engaged or consulted. Specialist technical services cannot do the job alone. Individual action is not enough. Whether it is for the assessment of the long term risks faced, the preparedness measures to be taken, the communication and interpretation of warnings, or the commitment to action on warnings, the engagement of communities and their natural leaders is essential, in order to build effective capacity in all links of the early warning chain.

National meteorological and hydrological services
Since about 80% of all disasters involve the weather, in most countries the national meteorological and hydrological service is the key national agency for issuing early warnings. Sometimes this agency also has responsibility for volcanic and earthquake hazards. In some countries, floods and hydrological forecasting are handled by a separate agency, for example a river basin management authority. When a serious hazard is imminent, to avoid confusion it is important that there is a single authoritative voice for the early warnings. Information on national meteorological and hydrological services can be found at the World Meteorological Organization site

Authorities concerned with impacts
In many countries, there are other authorities such as departments of civil protection, or of emergency management, which manage crises when they occur in order to reduce the impacts. These or other authorities may also take responsibility for assessing the social and economic impacts of potential hazard events and for issuing warnings of likely future impacts. Sometimes they may also undertake preventative mitigation and preparedness activities and outreach, including promotion of early warning and preparedness.
However, it is uncommon for authorities to systematically monitor and provide early warnings of the underlying social and environment conditions that are the cause of the growing vulnerability of many communities to natural hazards. The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) has recently published a report Reducing disaster risk: a Challenge for Development, which surveys vulnerability factors for most countries.

United Nations authorities
Many United Nations agencies and secretariats are active in early warning, either to support public use, or for their own operational use. Principal concerns include weather data and warnings (WMO), food-related monitoring and early warning (FAO, WFP), water related hazards and tsunami (UNESCO, WMO), drought (WMO, UNCCD), environmental factors (UNEP), humanitarian concerns (OCHA), and health impacts (WHO). Several UN agencies played a strong role in the Second International Conference on Early Warning and are involved in the development of the Platform for the Promotion of Early Warning.


Comment by Praful Rao

STH is working on a developing a small early warning network amongst NGOs in this part of world which could work alongside existing Govt machinery and alert communities in advance about cyclones/ depressions and periods of heavy precipitation.

Monday, April 20, 2009

STH, Landslide Awareness Program in the Rural Sector

Raising awareness about causes of landslide hazards and how we can prevent them, remains one of the primary roles of SaveTheHills.
With this in mind, on 18Apr2009 we carried out an awareness camp at the Centre for Mountain Dynamics (CMD), Pudung - Kalimpong, an NGO which does extensive work in the rural sector in Darjeeling district.
Approximately 45 resource people (men and women) from Self Help Groups (SHGs) of several Gram Panchayats (GP) of the district attended the hour long session which included an interactive session joined in by Mr Nayen Pradhan, President CMD (slide 1).
We also distributed STH Landslide Reporting Forms (slide2), which are standardized forms for reporting landslides to persons from Bijanbari GP, Mirik GP, Kalimpong Block II (Algarah) GP, Kafer (GP).


Bilingual (Nepali and English) landslide reporting forms have been made with a view to standardize landslide reports so that STH may maintain a database of landslides in the district. The same will be sent to NGOs and also to concerned govt departments.
My thanks to President/members of CMD who made this program possible and also to Ms Aachal Tamang of STH for her enthusiastic support.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

STH Stormwatch - 01/2009 (first one for 2009)

In the ensuing monsoon months, it will be our endeavour to keep a track of adverse weather phenomenon, as soon as is possible, using the internet / contacts with Meteorological Offices / Officers with a view to forewarn (as far as possible) communities thru our network with NGOs. STH (SaveTheHills) will also try to work alongside existing early warning govt. machinery so that casualties due to landslides maybe minimized.
With this in mind, we bring a satellite photo, the storm track and the cyclone warning issued by India and Bangladesh Meteorological Depts of the first cyclone this season...

The cyclone is NOT a threat to us now.

Cyclone Warning
(India Met Dept)

Dated: 18th April 2009

Time of issue: 0200 hours IST

Sub: Depression over northeast Bay of Bengal weakened into well marked low pressure area.

The depression over northeast Bay of Bengal moved northeastwards and crossed Bangladesh coast near Chittagaon (Bangladesh). It weakened and lay as a well marked low pressure area over Bangladesh and adjoining Mizoram & Tripura at 2330 hours IST of yesterday, the 17th April 2009.
Under its influence, rain/thundershower at many places with isolated heavy falls is likely over Nagaland, Manipur, Mizoram & Tripura and south Assam during next 24 hours

Bangladesh Met Dept

No. Jha: Sa:-20(15)/96/ Dated, Dhaka: 18-04-2009 Forecast Valid for 24 Hours Commencing 09 AM Today: Synoptic Situation: The cyclonic storm “BIJLI” moved Northeastwards and crossed the Chittagong, Cox’s Bazar coast near Chittagong at 03 AM today (18.04.09) and now lies over Southeastern part of Bangladesh as land depression. It is likely to move in a Northeasterly direction further inland and weaken gradually by giving precipitation. Steep pressure gradient lies over North Bay. Sea will remain rough. Forecast: Rain/ T.showers accompanied by tempo. gusty/squally wind is likely to occur at a few places over Barisal and Chittagong divisions and at one or two places over Dhaka, Rajshahi, Khulna and Sylhet divisions.

Comment by praful rao

I do realize that only a tiny minority uses the internet and even then the media (internet) which could otherwise be the most powerful and cheapest way of communication is also fraught with errors and problems in this part of the world...
the reason why I have blogged 3 days too late (about the storm) is that our internet services went dead for as many days!!!
Any suggestions?

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Not for the faint hearted .. an excerpt from "Solid-Earth Sciences and Society" (1993)

Landslides and Debris Flows

In the 1970s, landslides—all categories of gravity-related slope failures in earth materials—caused nearly 600 deaths per year worldwide. Annual landslide losses in the United States, Japan, Italy, and India have been estimated at $1 billion or more for each country.

Landslide costs include direct and indirect losses affecting both public and private property. Direct costs can be defined as the costs of replacement, repair, or maintenance of damaged property or installations. An example of direct costs resulting from a single major event is the $200-million loss attributed to the 21-million-m 3 landslide and debris flow at Thistle, Utah, in 1983. The slide severed three major transportation arteries—U.S. highways 6 and 89 and the main line of the Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad—and the lake it impounded by damming the Spanish Fork River inundated the town of Thistle, resulting in the destruction of businesses, homes, and railway switching yards. The indirect costs involved the cutoff of eastbound coal shipments along the railroad line. In 1983 oil was expensive and coal was crucial for generating electricity. With supplies from the west severed, eastern coal normally exported to Europe had to be rerouted. European industry, in turn, had to adjust to lowered supply. Ultimately, the landslide affected the international balance of payments.

Destructive landslides have been noted in European and Asian records for over three millennia. The oldest recorded landslides occurred in Hunan Province in central China 3,700 years ago, when earthquake-induced landslides dammed the Yi and Lo rivers. Since then, slope failures have caused untold numbers of casualties and huge economic losses. In many countries, expenses related to landslides are immense and apparently growing. In addition to killing people, slope failures destroy or damage residential and industrial developments as well as agricultural and forest lands, and they eventually degrade the quality of water in rivers and streams. Landslides are often associated with other events: freeze-thaw episodes, torrential rains, floods, earthquakes, or volcanic activity.

Despite improvements in recognition, prediction, mitigative measures, and warning systems, worldwide landslide losses—of lives and property—are increasing, and the trend is expected to continue into the twenty-first century. Some of the causes for this increase are continued deforestation, possible increased regional precipitation due to short-term changing climate patterns, and, most important, increased human population.

Demographic projections estimate that by 2025 the world's population will number more than 8 billion people. The urban population will increase to 5.1 billion—more than the total number of humans alive today. In the United States the land areas of the 142 cities with populations greater than 100,000 increased by 19 percent in the 15-year period from 1970 to 1985. By the year 2000, 363,000 km2 in the conterminous United States will have been paved or built on. This is an area about the size of the state of Montana. Accommodation of this population pressure will call for large volumes of geological materials in the construction of buildings, transportation routes, mines and quarries, dams and reservoirs, canals, and communication systems. All of these activities can contribute to the increase of damaging slope failures. In other countries, particularly developing nations, the urbanization pattern is being repeated but often without adequate land planning, zoning, or engineering. Not only do development projects draw people, but the projects themselves as well as the people who settle the surrounding area often occupy just those hillside slopes that are susceptible to sliding. At present, there is no organized program to provide the geological studies that could prevent the worst scenarios posed by this threat.

To reduce landslide losses, research efforts should encompass more than investigations of physical processes in hazardous areas aimed at understanding the nature of slope movement. Earth scientists also need to perfect methods for identifying areas at risk and for mitigating contributory factors. These goals are attainable. Scientists can predict areas at risk and advise means to avoid or moderate danger, but much of the research needed has yet to be done.

For the past half century, geologists have relied primarily on aerial photography and field studies—ideally in combination—for identification of vulnerable slopes and recognition of landslides. In recent years, since multispectral satellite coverage has become available for much of the world, an additional tool is available that can provide images in black and white or color as well as spectral bands through red, green, and near-infrared wavelengths. The coverage, scale, and quality of multispectral imagery is expected to improve considerably within the next decades and provide valuable information that can lead to improved identification of landslide-prone locations.

The information gathered from satellite reconnaissance can contribute to the growing store made use of in geographic information systems, which are digital systems of mapping spatial distribution that can be applied to the preparation of landslide susceptibility maps. These modern data-handling systems facilitate both pattern recognition and model building. Patterns and models that suggest landslide susceptibility can be tested, revised and improved, and then tested again against large numbers of observations.

As a result of these gains in knowledge, progress has been made in determining appropriate types of landslide mitigation. The most traditional mitigation technique is avoidance: keep away from areas at risk. When occupation of a site warrants risk, engineered control structures may be required, including surface water diversion and subsurface water drains, the construction of restraining structures such as walls and buttresses, and devices such as rock bolts. The establishment and enforcement of site grading codes calling for appropriate slope stabilization instituted in 1952 by Los Angeles County have worked well. Cut-and-fill grading techniques involving the removal of material from the slope head, regrading of uneven slopes, and hillslope benching are all of proven value. Consideration of such factors has had a major effect on reducing landslide losses in the United States, Canada, the European nations, the former Soviet Union, Japan, China, and other countries. Landslide research today is focused not so much on locating where landslides are and what hazards they represent as on figuring out how to cope with the potential hazard that they represent. This is an area of close cooperation between solid-earth scientists and geotechnical engineers.

Mitigation has also benefited from substantial progress in the development of physical warning systems for impending landslides. Significant improvement will result as better instrumentation and communication systems are developed. Of particular importance will be continuing advances in computer technology and satellite communications. Hazard-interaction problems require a shift in perspective from the incrementalism of individual hazards to a broader systems approach. Earth scientists, engineers, land-use planners, and public officials are becoming aware of interactive natural hazards that occur simultaneously or in sequence and that produce cumulative effects that differ from those of their component hazards acting separately. Research on the social aspects of such relationships in terms of warning systems and emergency services is necessary. At what point should people evacuate and abandon their little piece of the Earth?

Human intervention can reduce landslide risk by influencing some contributory causes. Projects that undermine slopes in marginal equilibrium or destabilize susceptible areas by quick drawdown of reservoirs can be avoided. Among projects that can lay the groundwork for disastrous landslides are road building, mining, fluid injection, and building construction that entails clearing vegetation. Planning and designing such projects with the local landslide potential in mind is absolutely essential. While these activities may not individually cause a landslide, they can increase the likelihood of slope failure as preconditions to which cloudbursts or earthquakes are added. Wherever hillsides receive precipitation over days and weeks, the pore-water pressure can build in rock fractures and decrease bulk shear strength, which can then induce displacements under less force than would be needed to shear a drier material. A proven mitigation technique in such cases is for geologists to locate the water surface in fractured rocks and drain off destabilizing water by drilling horizontal wells.

Then there are the regional-scale contributory causes of increased landslide susceptibility such as deforestation. According to the World Resources Institute, approximately 109,000 km2 of tropical forest is being destroyed annually—an area the size of Ohio. Removal of the forest cover increases flooding, erosion, and landslide activity. This deforestation is causing serious landslide problems in many developing countries.

The activities of humankind have commonly accelerated the transformations, catapulting natural systems over thresholds and producing immediate environmental threats. The geomorphological processes affected by humans cover a staggering range of scale. From local denudation caused by livestock overgrazing, a significant component of the process of regional desertification, humankind has evolved into a major geomorphological agent. Proper understanding of progressive geomorphological changes can forestall precipitous transformations and prevent the loss of landform stability.

Comment by praful rao

Even though the article is from 1993, I found much of what is written, relevant for us living in the Darjeeling-Sikkim Himalayas today in 2009.
In the above article, the italics are mine
and for those interested the full e-book can be read here

Thursday, April 9, 2009

18 months down the line...

One of our main roles as an NGO has and will be raising awareness about scourge of landslides in the Darjeeling/Sikkim Himalayas and the need for commencing a sustained and holistic landslide prevention / mitigation program here.
In the almost 18 months of our existence, I daresay that we have had a fair measure of success in this. We have had extensive media coverage, the National Disaster Management Authority has been made aware of our plight so has the District Disaster Management Authority and many amongst our citizenry are more aware of the causes landslides today.
Placed above is a record of our awareness programs and a photograph from our most recent workshop at Dansberg Social Club, 12th Mile Kalimpong.
What is ironic in all this, we lack basic equipment such as a LCD projector, laptop and a video camera to do this awareness work and most of the programs have been carried out on our own steam or with the help of friends.

praful rao

Monday, April 6, 2009

Revealing the Truth :Sindebung landslides


On 12Mar2009, a motley group from STH trudged down to Sindebung, a small village in the underbelly of Kalimpong with a view to make a documentary on the landslide situation there. Sindebung has been scarred by landslides for years now and they have reduced much fertile farmland into rock, rubble and sludge yet nothing has been done by way of landslide prevention. (Earlier STH blogs featuring Sindebung are on 14Mar2009, 08Nov2008 and 02Nov2007)

I have uploaded a small clip from the interview of one resident of Sindebung village. It is our intention to mail the documentary when complete to the National, State and District Disaster Management Authorities besides broadcasting it over local channels.


My thanks to
a) my young STH friends, Aachal, Karan and Hemkar.
b) Mr Sandip Jain of Journalist Association of Kalimpong.
c) Hill Channel TV
d) Most of all to the people of Sindebung village.

praful rao