Wednesday, June 24, 2009

640 signatures and 20 months later , landslide prevention work commences at ALAICHIKHOP, Kalimpong

ALAICHIKHOP, Kalimpong has been featured on this blog many times earlier (refer blogs of 24 Sep07, 01Oct07, 29Mar08, 20June08) mainly because it epitomizes the nightmare which we in STH have shouting hoarse about - a densely populated area which is very landslide prone. Last week, the Irrigation Dept of the Government (DGHC) finally commenced preventive work in this area .. I am glad to say that we did play a role in getting this work started along with the people of this area with particular reference to Mr Bishnu Chhetri.
And even though we have MILES TO GO before we sleep, well - it is a start.

Praful Rao

Sunday, June 21, 2009

3 years / 2 breaches - National Hydroelectric Power Corporation's (NHPC) Lo Dam (Stage III) on the River Teesta at Reang (Kalimpong)

Comment by Praful Rao

For those interested, Cyclone AILA affected the hills of Darjeeling district between 24 -26May2009 causing widespread damage and at least 27 deaths. The three days of rain also caused the river Teesta to become a swollen dragon which devoured parts of the NHPC dams at Reang (stageIII) and at Kalijhora (stageIV).
What is of interest and concern is that this is the second time the stage III dam at Reang has been inundated by the Teesta in the past 3 years. The last being in Jul2007.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Some images from the STH Workshop on Disaster Management at DISHA Centre, Kalimpong on 18Jun09

Photo Credits : Chinlop Fudong Lepcha

Media (Telegraph) coverage on STH workshop on 18Jun2009 on Disaster Management

Plan land use to save hills, says expert


Kalimpong, June 18: A comprehensive profile of the Darjeeling hill topography using satellite imagery can be of great use for preparing land-use plans in the landslide-prone region.
Mamata Desai, professor, department of ecology, physical and human resources at the Netaji Institute for Asian Studies, Calcutta, who has carried out identification and mapping of the hazard-prone areas in the hills by using Geographical Information System and remote sensing techniques, put forward the suggestion here today. Desai was delivering a keynote address at a workshop on disaster management. She said population explosion and dwindling forest cover were among the main reasons for the increase in the frequency of landslides in the hills. The workshop was organised by Save The Hills, an NGO actively engaged in espousing the landslide issue.
Citing the example of the
Darjeeling Municipality area, she said the percentage of forest cover had come down from 95 per cent in 1800 to 10 per cent in 2001. Conversely, the built-up area has gone from nil to 65 per cent. The population in the hills has increased by over four times between 1901 and 2001.
Under such circumstances, she said, land-use practices played the most important role in determining the stability factor of a region.
“The land-use planning should be undertaken after thorough analysis of the slope faces by calculating the humidity aspects. The humidity level is very high on the southern slope of the hills. The slope should not be used either for construction or agriculture activity,” she told about 100 people who had been invited.
One among the many ways of mitigating the landslide hazard, she said, was the preparation of data base by taking into consideration all relevant information like geology, geomorphology, history of landslide or any other type of disaster in the area concerned. “On the basis of the database, respective department or group can prepare sustainable planning to mitigate the disasters,” she said, while emphasizing that landslides could not be completely stopped, but only mitigated.
Stating that proper management could reduce landslides by as much as 75per cent, she made a 10-point suggestion, including, among others, soil mapping, micro-level land-use mapping, checking deforestation, restriction on construction along side slopes of the roads, and ban on plastic bags.


Comment by Praful Rao

The workshop was one of many that we in STH have carried out in a bid to raise awareness about landslides. I am glad to state that the turn out especially amongst officials of Govt depts and Civic bodies was good.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Cyclone AILA : The Teesta River chapter

Cyclone AILA was an extraordinary event which occurred between 24-27May09 (for us living in this region). One gets an idea of the huge amount of water that was dumped by the cyclone on these hills (in just over 72hrs) from the photos above.
My thanks to Naren Tamang of KTv, Kalimpong for the photos taken during AILA. To make the comparison stark, I took the other photos of approx the same areas on 13 Jun09.

Praful Rao

Friday, June 12, 2009

Cyclone AILA stories continued ...From the Telegraph today

Scurry to flee landslides

- 40 families desert village every night after cyclone VIVEK CHHETRI

Rai Busty (Darjeeling), June 11: Monsoon has not yet set in but every time the skies darken, Puran Rai scurries with his family of three to a rented house situated 3km away.
The 39-year-old Puran is not alone. After Cyclone Aila struck last month, at least 40 families have refused to take chances.
Fear of killer landslides has already forced eight families to rent apartments at Alubari and Jorebunglow, considered a safe zone.
The story is the same at Sunar Busty across the hill. Nine of the 34 families have already shifted base since May 26, the day the cyclone triggered 40 landslides in the hills, killing 20 people.
“No one was killed in our village and only one house was damaged. That was perhaps the reason why little attention has been given to our village. However, the entire village can be wiped off any day if there is a torrential rain. The area is sinking and landslides have been an annual feature since 2000,” said Puran.
The villagers come back every morning and on the “dry days” to look after their fields. “There is only one person in our village who works with the government. Others are all farmers while some are drivers and labourers,” said Puran.
Rai Busty and Sunar Busty are located on slopes, as a result of which there are no protection walls around the villages. Besides, the soil is also loose. An inspection of the villages revealed that some of the areas had sunk below the normal level of land and houses have developed cracks.
“We had even invited the previous Darjeeling MP to visit our village. He has assured us of rehabilitation. Promises had been made by previous leaders running the DGHC too, but nothing happened,” added Puran, who wants to move out of this village.
However, Amrita Subba of Sunar Busty said: “If the government builds protection walls and keeps the drains open, we do not have to leave the village. We have so much of land why should we leave this place,” she adds.
The area has witnessed landslides since 1950. But problems have been compounded by lack of drainage and protection wall.


Uncertainty in Aila-hit school


Kurseong, June 11: The 700-odd students of Pankhabari High School that was struck by the Aila do not know when their classes will begin.
The school was one of the many buildings in the hills that had been damaged by the cyclone on May 26. The roof of the two-storied building had been swept away and the documents along with 12 computers of the institution had been destroyed. Classes had been suspended following the disaster.
“Repair of the building has already started but we do not know when it will finish. We are expecting the work to finish soon so that we can start classes at the earliest,” said H.D. Chettri, the teacher in-charge of the school.
The Pankhabari school, located 9km from here, was established in 1964 while the building that was damaged was constructed in 1986.
The school authorities have, however, started classes for the 150 students of Classes X and XII. “Since they will sit for the board exams and we have to finish their syllabus in time, we have started their classes in the three rooms of our administrative building,” added Chettri.
Other students have to wait till the repair is done, Chettri said. He also could not specify how long the repair would take. “We cannot at this time say how much time the work will take.”
Chettri said classes would be extended till December to make up the shortfall.


Praful Rao

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Landslide affected areas of Darjeeling and Kurseong (updated till May09)

Cyclone AILA swept thru the district between 24-26May2009 leaving a trail of death and destruction. In all 27 people died (20 in Darjeeling and 7 in Kurseong). A Central govt team did visit the affected areas to assess the damage between 06-08Jun09; Kalimpong subdivision which escaped major damage and where there were no deaths was not visited by the team but we (STH team) did manage to meet them in the Circuit House on 08Jun09, Darjeeling and brief them in detail about the serious landslide problem in Kalimpong. I am glad to tell you that they were very receptive and the meeting went off well.

Praful Rao

Friday, June 5, 2009

Cyclone AILA in pictures : the Darjeeling Episode

I made a one day trip to Darjeeling on the 29May2009 - 3 days after Cyclone AILA and was horrified to see the extent of damage. Unfortunately, it is just what STH has been shouting hoarse about in all the many awareness camps and workshops we have done since Sep07 viz the danger posed by smallish, killer landslides triggered mostly by anthropogenic factors such as drainage in a densely, populated urban scenario.
Without claiming to be any sort of expert, what was evident was:-

a) Most of the landslides were the result of drainage problems.

b) The fact that many landslides occurred during daylight hours was responsible for casualty figures being relatively low.

c) The casualty figures were also low because May is not really our "landslide season". May is pre-monsoon time and the earth is still dry and not lubricated. Our major landslides have always taken place much later during the monsoons, when the earth is saturated with days of heavy precipitation eg Oct1968 and Sep2007

Lets face it, Cyclone AILA was a freak storm which came our way (the last one that hit W Bengal in May was in 1989 as per IMetD) ; what I am worried is that we still have the better part of our 3000mm of annual rainfall left to batter us in the almost 4 months ahead.

The question is how will we survive this onslaught without more landslides and casualties?

My thanks to my good friend Suman Rai for making this trip possible.

Praful Rao

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

From the Newspapers today

Morcha to take up hill relief with CM today


arjeeling, June 2: A Gorkha Janmukti Morcha delegation led by the outfit’s president Bimal Gurung will meet the Bengal chief minister tomorrow and discuss the devastation caused by the cyclone in the hills.

Roshan Giri, the general secretary of the Morcha, said: “We will be discussing the destruction caused by landslides in the hills and the relief needed for the people. Other issues might also be taken up at the meeting with Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee.”
Giri and other Morcha leaders like Trilok Dewan, L.B. Pariyar, Krishna Limbu and Raju Pradhan left for
Calcutta today and Gurung will be joining the delegation tomorrow.
The general secretary said the Morcha had taken the initiative to meet the chief minister. “The invitation did not come from them (government), but we decided to meet the chief minister, taking into account the destruction the cyclone has unleashed in the hills,” said Giri.
The Morcha has already demanded a relief package of Rs 1,000 crore from the state government. The leaders of the outfit had met governor Gopalkrishna Gandhi in
Darjeeling with the same demand.
Following the landslides triggered by the storm, around 1,400 people have been displaced and they are staying in 41 relief camps set up in schools and community halls.
Darjeeling district administration had yesterday held a meeting with various departments and decided to co-ordinate the relief works being undertaken in the aftermath of the calamity.
“We are coming up with a Disaster Management District Plan and trying to co-ordinate with all agencies which can help us,” said Surendra Gupta, the
Darjeeling district magistrate.
The meeting took stock of the overall situation in the hills and decided to make provisions to store food items during the monsoon.
Sources said the discussions also centred around putting in place a system that could warn of inclement weather and requisitioning the services of the army in the landslide-affected areas.
“Things like the identification of helipads also cropped up at the meeting. (The helipads have already been identified.) How to tie up with the airforce for better co-ordination and arrange army vehicles for aid were the other issues discussed,” said an official.The departments have decided to speed up the works like the strengthening and the repair of culverts and bridges.


Fear stalks sink zone

- Houses in Kurseong village tilt and develop cracks VIVEK SINGH

Kurseong, June 2: They may have escaped the landslides caused by Cyclone Aila this time, but 10 families at 14th Mile fear that come another deluge, they may not be so lucky.
Huge cracks have appeared on the walls and floors of 10 houses making it difficult for the owners to continue to stay there. Some of the structures have also tilted a little making them more dangerous.
“If it starts raining in the evening, we gather in a single room and stay awake for the entire night. When the storm struck last Tuesday, we feared that we would die but we are thankful to god that nothing happened to us. We may not be so lucky the next time as almost 10 houses have got severe cracks and have tilted,” said Mankala Chhetri, whose house has cracks on the walls and has tilted a bit.
A former gram panchayat member of the area, Nawraj Pradhan, said the cracks had started appearing some three years ago.
The village, 10km from here, situated above NH55 has a population of around 300 with 30 to 35 houses. The area, Pradhan said, is located in a sinking zone. The road below the village had sunk some years ago.
“We had given in writing our plight to the authorities concerned. Some two years ago, the block development officer of Kurseong had also visited the area,” added Pradhan.
“Where can we go? We have no other place to shift this moment. Moreover, we domesticate cows which are our source of income. Moving out means taking the cattle along,” said Mankala, adding that in recent times nobody from the administration had visited the area.
Mankala owns 10-15 cows and her family earns by selling milk in the Gayabari area. But Mankala is not the only one living in fear.
“My whole verandah has huge cracks. Some weeks back we had filled them with cement and sand. The walls have also developed cracks. Whenever it rains, our heart skips a beat,” said Bhagawati Chettri, another resident.
Kurseong subdivisional officer Dipyendu Das confirmed that the village is located in a sinking zone.
“A team from the Geological Survey of India had visited the area last year and in their report they confirmed the fact. The residents have to be shifted from there and currently we are looking for a vacant government land in the area. Once we get that, we will plan the shifting.”

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Naming of Cyclones

New Delhi: Before it struck the US in 2005, Katrina was just a harmless sounding name. But the fury of Aila, which hit India and Bangladesh on Monday killing at least 73 people, is in its name—Aila means fire and has its etymological origins in the Maldivian language of Dhivehi.
Unlike storm names in the US, the ones that strike India rarely sound sexist
Unlike US weather scientists who strictly alternate between male and female names for severe cyclones, the ones that strike India rarely sound sexist.
According to the India Meteorological Department’s (IMD) website, storm names must be “...culturally sensitive and shouldn’t have a negative, inflammatory meaning”.
“Storms can be named after flowers, birds and, as far as possible, be gender neutral,” said Ajith Tyagi, director general of IMD. Most importantly, the names have to be short, he added.
It was only after 1979 that male names were used to mark storms striking the US, after protests by feminist groups.
Cyclone names are fixed in advance. Every year the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), an intergovernmental body that collaborates on weather data and sets conventions on forecasting, sifts through lists of cyclone names.
India is part of an eight-member sub-group of WMO that includes Myanmar, Thailand, Pakistan, the Maldives, Oman and Sri Lanka. In 2004, these countries fixed a list of names that are used sequentially. Cyclones aren’t as frequent in these regions as in the US, where weather scientists often exhaust their list within a few years. Aila, in contrast, is only 17th on the list of 64 names in use since 2005.
Unlike cyclones that strike the US and Australia, North Indian Ocean (which consists of the Arabian Sea and the Bay of Bengal) storm names aren’t recycled or “retired”. Names of particularly devastating storms in the Pacific or Atlantic, such as Katrina, are retired, meaning they are never used again.
“Storms are always devastating and, therefore, their names are never repeated (in our naming convention),” said Tyagi.
The next three big storms that rage through India or its territorial waters are going to be called Phyan, Ward and Laila—names proposed by Myanmar, Oman and Pakistan. The next name of Indian origin will be Jal.
Aila was preceded by Bijli (lightning)—a name coined by India—which whimpered past Bangladesh in April.

-Article by Jacob P Koshy from www. (Wall Street Journal)

Comment by Praful Rao

We are in the cyclone season and as I talked to two groups of people from the rural sector yesterday in meetings organized by the Himalayan Farmer's Front and the Glenn Family Foundation..they asked me how are cyclones named.