Wednesday, October 2, 2019

An event of NOTE : Legislator's dialogue on Climate Change (04Oct2019) at Kalimpong

STH is a part of the Darjeeling Himalaya Initiative (DHI). Read more about Integrated Mountain Initiative

Praful Rao,
Kalimpong district
Darjeeling-Sikkim Himalaya

Saturday, September 21, 2019

Extreme thunderstorm at Kalimpong (20Sep2019)

Photo credits : Ms Shreya Gurung

* Having worked on the landslide problem of this region, I am very worried when we have intense rainfall towards the end of the monsoons. Some of our major landslide events (Oct 1968, Sep2007) have taken place at this time when the soil is saturated in the months of monsoon rain and a heavy downpour occurs triggering slope failure.
Last evening, we were lucky - the rainfall was extreme and intense reaching 215mm/hr and staying over a 100mm/hr for a good 20mins. Maybe what saved us was:
a. The past 10days have seen deficient rainfall with the last 2 days being dry.
b. The storm quickly moved away from us and within an hour we were dry again.
* And this seems to be the new normal where we alternate between rainfall deficiencies and surplus, where we either have no water and our fields and springs are dry or when we have so much water that it causes landslides and death.
* Having said this, I would also like to bring to light the recent landslides in Tsong, Yuksom area of Sikkim where there was no warning of heavy rain in the area as in the case of Kalimpong yesterday. These small local weather events which can result in heavy downpours but do not show up on satellite imagery and therefore give no warning are increasingly the ones we must guard against.

Total rainfall in the thunderstorm on 20Sep2019 42.7mm

Praful Rao
Kalimpong district
Darjeeling-Sikkim Himalaya

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

STH activities - Participating in 'Deluge and Disaster' a Sensitization Program in Siliguri College (Dept of Geography): 17Sep2019

A sensitization programme on climate change entitled " Deluge and Disaster: Towards Mitigation and Adaptation " was organised by the PG Dept of Geography and Applied Geography, Siliguri College in collaboration with the Center for Mitigation of Climate Change and Global Warming ( CMCCGW), on 17.09.2019, in the Dept of Geography, Siliguri College.
Anthropogenic climate change is one of the greatest challenges that humanity is facing in the 21st Century. Hence, the need to motivate and inspire young minds to ponder upon questions and issues that confront us today.
With this main objective and with the target audience primarily being the post graduate students of the
Department, the Programme was just the right mix of profound and proactive exploration of the core theme, under the tutelage of very distinguished experts:
  • Dr S. Mishra(Retd. Ag-meteorologist, WB) presented an in-depth research-based account of the climate change patterns in West Bengal for a period of over 100 years.
  • Wg Cdr Praful Rao (retd), President, STH spoke on 'Water - too little or too much, the new normal.'
  • Dr P. T. Bhutia( Ex APCCF, NB) presented a scientific account, which was at the same time, an empathetic and poignant portrayal of the impact on climate change on the Jaldhaka WLS.
  • DR S. Halder ( Exe. Engineer,WB) gave an enlightening talk on Deluge Disaster Risk Assessment. Dr. S. Ghosh( Director, Soil Survey, WB) explored issues of climate change vis a vis agriculture, while Smt Majumdar ( President, IRGSD, Kolkata) addressed the psychological response to climate induced disasters.

The quality of the lectures and the wisdom imparted by the speakers ensured that the students were inspired and motivated to look at issues of climate change, with the gravity and seriousness it deserves.

My thanks to Dr Nima Lama for the write up.

Praful Rao,
Kalimpong district
Darjeeling Sikkim Himalaya

Saturday, September 14, 2019

STH Activities: Working on Mountain Spring Rejuvenation with ICIMOD (&TMI) in Kalimpong - 13Sep2019

Excerpt from NITI Ayog's 'Inventory and Revival of Springs in the Himalayas for Water Security'
'Mountain springs are the primary source of water for rural households in the Himalayan region. For many people, springs are the sole source of water. For example, a major proportion of drinking water supply in the mountainous parts of Uttarakhand is spring based, while in Meghalaya all villages in the State use
springs for drinking, irrigation and for livestock. As per a rough estimate, there are five million springs across India, out of which nearly 3 million are in the IHR alone. Despite the key role that they play, springs have not received their due attention and many are drying up. Spring discharge is reported to be declining due to increased water demand, land use change, and ecological degradation. With climate change and rising temperatures, rise in rainfall intensity and reduction in its temporal spread, and a marked decline in winter rain, the problem of dying springs is being increasingly felt across the Indian Himalayan Region...
Of late, efforts to preserve and save springs from drying up and efforts to recharge them are gaining momentum....'

Praful Rao
Kalimpong District,
Darjeeling-Sikkim Himalaya

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Rainfall data of Darjeeling Sikkim Himalayas - August 2019

Rainfall data of Siliguri, Gangtok (East Sikkim), Dentam (W Sikkim) and Damthang (S Sikkim) are from IMD.

There were no major landslide events in August 2019 in our region.
My thanks to all my friends who helped in compiling the above rainfall data.

Praful Rao,
Kalimpong district,
Darjeeling - Sikkim Himalaya

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Rainfall data of July2019 for the Darjeeling - Sikkim Himalaya

The torrential downpours between the 06July till 17Jul2019 caused a spate of damage all over the Darjeeling and Kalimpong districts and resulted in 5 deaths and many landslides. Links are placed below:
a. Either it's too little or too much
b. Extreme event in Darjeeling
c. Landslide report
A graphical representation of the rainfall over Kalimpong in July2019 (from our Davis AWS) is placed below:
A copy of the RED warning issued by IMD during the period is placed below and as far as I can remember, the first 2 weeks of July 2019 saw the largest consecutive number of RED warnings issued for heavy rain for SHWB (Sub-Himalayan W Bengal) and Sikkim:
The rainfall data (Jun-July2019) for Sikkim from IMD Sikkim is below:
Rainfall data of Gangtok, Damthang, Dentam and rainfall maps are from IMD.

Praful Rao
Kalimpong district,
Darjeeling - Sikkim Himalaya

Friday, August 16, 2019

5 year rainfall data of the Darjeeling - Sikkim Himalaya from CRIS (IMD)

Rainfall day-wise over the monsoon months, for the last 10yrs have been published on this blog for some main towns of the region.
The source for the above chart is here

Praful Rao
Kalimpong district
Darjeeling- Sikkim Himalaya

Saturday, August 10, 2019

An Event of Note: #Plastic Freedom Challenge pledge in Darjeeling (08Aug2019)

Over 100 students from schools and colleges, Darjeeling Municipality and members of Zero Waste Himalaya took the #Plastic Freedom Challenge pledge led by the Executive Officer, Darjeeling Municipality Shri Samiran Mandal at the Town Hall, Darjeeling on 8 August 2019. The pledge is to take a break from using plastic items for a week August 8 - August 15 so as to step towards a more sustainable lifestyle and reducing the load on the landfill. A plastic free Independence Day celebrations was also advocated in the event.
Plastic pollution has become one of the gravest concerns the world over and also for our mountains, the situation is no different. The plastic problem is directly related to how we are and packaging our products, but also largely to the way we are living our lives. We are Producing, Consuming and Throwing plastics like never before and all of the plastics which we have thrown will remain on the planet for a long time to come. Our oceans are full of plastics, so are our rivers and streams and forests. There is plastics in our bottled water, plastics in tap water, in the salt that we eat, and also in our poop. Therefore it goes without saying that there is a need to make concerted efforts to address the issue of plastic pollution through individual actions to bring changes to our lifestyles, as well as collective actions and policies to make companies more responsible. The #PlasticFreedomChallenge (#PFC) is a yearly campaign that takes place across the 12 mountain states and calls on individuals to that the challenge to go without plastic for a week.
Independence Day is a great opportunity to Beat Plastic Pollution and to break free from plastics, especially single use plastics. #PFC runs for a week from 8 August (Zero Waste Himalaya Day) to 15 August (Independence Day) where we challenge ourselves and others to go one week without plastics. #PFC is a collective response to bring positive changes to the unhealthy and unsustainable lives that we are leading and is a stepping stone to journey towards more sustainable lifestyles, while influencing others to do the same. #PFC is also to mark our collective stand against companies that pollute by refusing to use their products (that are also unhealthy and toxic) for a week, and to continue it beyond.

The event had presentations on the rationale for the Plastic Freedom Challenge and need to close the tap on plastic as the only solution to the plastic pollution and the need to go beyond the narrative of dustbins, brooms, rolling down the hill and burning waste. Ajay Chettri performed his song Taarjeeiling during the event and the song ended with Darjeeling ko phor kasley sangalera laney ho(who will manage the waste of Darjeeling) which gave the queue to the pledge.
The Town Hall had exhibition and sale of sustainable products like cloth sanitary pads and menstrual cups – DLR Prerna; locally produced reusable bags from Hayden Hall and Earth and Home; bamboo toothbrushes, straws, wooden pencils and games from Tieede, bio-degradable Rakhi from Scavengers. Zero Waste Himalaya had a poster series 12 steps to zero waste that highlights simple doable steps that enables individuals to reduce their waste and move to a more sustainable lifestyle. OKC Monastery had a special poster exhibition that highlighted their initiative of a plastic free Sakha Dawa where no plastic wrapped offering and food was used in the entire rituals and festivities. The exhibition inspired and offered options to the participants of the event.

 The participants at the Zero Waste Himalaya Day were students and teachers of St. Joseph’s College, Darjeeling Government College, Ghoom Jorebunglow Degree College, Municipal Boys HS, St. Teresa’s HS, Notre Dame Academy, Assembly of Gods Church School, Nepali Girl’s HS, St. Joseph’s, St. Robert’s, Municipal Girls HS.

Zero Waste Himalaya is a pan Himalayan collective of individuals, Government Organisations, CSOs, FBOs that promote principles of zero waste as the sustainable waste management paradigm. The Darjeeling event was represented these ZWH members Anugyalaya, DLR Prerna, Scavengers, Tieede, WWF-India.
Contact details of ZERO WASTE HIMALAYA
Mr Roshan Rai (DLR Prerna) -
Ms Priya Shrestha (WWF-India) -
Mr RP Gurung (ECOSS)
Mt Arpan Rai (Anugyalaya,Darj) -

Praful Rao,
Kalimpong district
Darjeeling Sikkim Himalaya

Friday, August 9, 2019

The terrifying new normal in rainfall: It's either too little or too much

As far as rainfall goes, June 2019 for us in the Darjeeling Himalayas ended with a net deficiency of -56%:
Exact figures in for the region from IMD are:
The average rainfall figures for the region being:

So while the rural community in Kalimpong district felt very anxious at the continued deficiency of rain (Apr and May2019 were also bone dry months), urban dwellers were also facing a severe water shortage and extraordinary heat in the pre-monsoon season.
Then came July and in 10 days (06-15Jul2019) we received 98% of our monthly rain in Kalimpong and Darjeeling with Kurseong, Siliguri going well over the monthly rainfall during the same period:
In Aug2019 thus far, in just 5 days Kalimpong has received 51.1% of the monthly rain for August.
This trend is being seen in the entire country be it Vadodra or Mumbai and the consequences of these events have been covered in this blog and also by the media
I wonder whether we realize what we are facing and are prepared to face the new normal in precipitation which is always either too little rain or too much.

Praful Rao,
Kalimpong district,
Darjeeling-Sikkim Himalaya

Monday, August 5, 2019

A mention from an Icon in his memoirs : Prof Leszek Starkel On SaveTheHills

In the world of Geo-morphology, Prof Leszek Starkel of the Polish Academy of Sciences stands tall.
A virtual giant of a man and a pioneer in the studies of landslides in the Darjeeling Himalaya, he first came to Darjeeling after the Oct 1968 disaster and continued to turn up almost every year thereafter to trudge these mountains and write volumes.
I came across him quite by accident. A friend had loaned me Prof Starkel's book on landslides some time in early 2008 and while flipping thru the pages I found his email address on the last page of the book. I shot off an email to him and promptly forgot about it, never expecting a reply from someone as famous or as busy.
Almost 6 months later I received a reply from him saying he would be in this area in the autumn of 2008 and would be happy to meet me. What followed was almost history for STH - we quickly organized the first Seminar on Landslide Hazards at Darjeeling with Prof Starkel as our keynote speaker.
I found his 'Memoirs' recently while researching the 1968 disaster and have published the excerpts below:
The images of the 21Nov2008 Seminar are here

Praful Rao,
Kalimpong district
Darjeeling-Sikkim Himalaya

Saturday, August 3, 2019

A document from the past: my (restored) photo of the Oct1968 disaster in the Darjeeling-Sikkim Himalaya

The Story behind the above Photo:
I still have vivid and frightening memories of the Oct 1968 Disaster which engulfed the entire Darjeeling-Sikkim Himalayas more than 50yrs ago.
I was 17 then, a student of St Joseph's College, Darjeeling who had come home to Kalimpong during the Puja vacations in the first week of October.
Then all of a sudden it started raining...
Strange that it was raining so heavily when we normally expected fine weather with an occasional shower. Stranger still, that the torrential downpours continued thru the day and night and yet another day and another night ... and for 4 days.
I don't recollect much lightning or thunder so I presume now it wasn't any cyclone or depression which had moved up from the Bay (of Bengal). I just remember the steady and heavy drumming of incessant rain. I also don't recall any panic or concern either among the local people or in government circles.
Meanwhile it just rained and rained and rained.
On the fourth night, I distinctly remember going to bed and hearing muffled explosions at night - landslides were taking place somewhere and reasonably close by...
On the fifth day morning, it stopped raining and suddenly we saw patches of blue skies.. and in the silence with no heavy rain, all I heard was sounds of water - water gushing out of crevices, trickling down some hidden corner, streets which had turned into rivers, water pounding down jhoras (natural drains), and the roar of the Teesta river way below my home in Tirpai, Kalimpong.
And there was also death.
It was everywhere - I saw the carcass of cows which had been buried in a landslide below our home, and near Nandu Ram's Wool Godown (now the CST - Central School for TIbetans) barely 5 mins walk from my home, some 15 people died in a huge landslide (refer the 'explosions'). Further down, in Dungra bustee, a jhora had burst its banks and swept away an entire clan of 7 of our relatives.
My little hamlet, Tirpai was marooned, cut off from the town of Kalimpong which was barely a kilometer away, and Kalimpong itself was marooned from Siliguri with the highway being decimated by landslides.
So we heard new sounds - sounds of helicopters as they dropped supplies and food, up at the army cantonment in Durpin.
I heard that the iconic Anderson bridge at Teesta bazar had been been swept away and that was when I and 2 friends walked down 16kms to photograph the destruction and havoc caused in the mother of all disasters in the Darjeeling- Sikkim Himalaya.
Realizing that most readers of this blog would not have even been born when the Oct 1968 disaster occurred and therefore would not understand the significance of the photo on top, I am attaching an image of the majestic Anderson Bridge which was washed away during the event. It was constructed in 1933 and named after John Anderson, Governor of Bengal.

Praful Rao,
Kalimpong district,
Darjeeling-Sikkim Himalaya

Monday, July 29, 2019

Rainfall data of Jun2019 for the Darjeeling-Sikkim Himalaya

 Rainfall data of Gangtok, Damthang and Dentam are from IMD

North Sikkim : The deluge of 17Jun2019

Also read here


'June ended with a huge deficit of 33% (for the whole country) but within a span of 10days  from 01Jul to12Jul it came down to 14%'.

- KJ Ramesh,
Director General,

Praful Rao
Kalimpong district
Darjeeling -Sikkim Himalaya

Friday, July 26, 2019

Orange orchards of Darjeeling & Kalimpong - from the Best Growing Zones into Graveyards.

On 22Nov2015, I made a trip to Sittong in Kurseong subdivison (Darjeeling dist) to check out some landslides in that area. It was a day long trip and I visited some prominent landslides while enroute to the little hamlet and spent much of my day investigating the huge landslide in Sittong 3.
I also talked with some locals about the landslide situation there but while talking about their livelihoods they said oranges which were their main source of livelihood in Sittong were almost gone.
Of course, everyone here knows that oranges from Sittong once flooded the markets in Kalimpong and those along National Highway10 at Lohapul.
What the people I talked to feared most, was that along with oranges, their livelihoods for generations would also disappear.
They were correct.
Oranges as a cash crop in the Darjeeling-Kalimpong region is history today.
This news was brought out in the Telegraph on 25Nov2015 (see below) and I know that it was shown to a very high level official from the Govt of W Bengal who was visiting Kalimpong that day.

Therefore, I was surprised to read yesterday, another article by Vivek on 'Orange crisis in the hills' (below).

So 4 years later, while politicians still bicker and blame each other, the Darjeeling hills - once one of the 'best orange growing zones' in the country, is today a graveyard for orange orchards with the livelihoods of thousands destroyed and it is certainly NOT due to aging trees and orchards alone.
I visited some orchards in Bhalukhop bustee (village), Kalimpong some years ago and talked to a farmer who's crop was similarly blighted - he showed me the reason for the orange trees dying en masse (see below) despite being new plantations:

WIth many of our cash crops, ginger, oranges, now large cardamom succumbing to disease and pests, and the looming water crisis in the mountains where our natural springs are drying up, one wonders about food security in the Darjeeling -Sikkim Himalaya and future of agriculture as viable livelihood option for the rural youth of the region.

Praful Rao,
Kalimpong district,
Darjeeling -Sikkim Himalaya

Sunday, July 14, 2019

Extreme event in the Darjeeling Himalayas as it unfurls :14Jul2019

We, in the Darjeeling Himalayas have over the past 9 days been witnessing an extraordinary weather event.
a. A low pressure area between the states of UP and Bihar resulted in a sudden spurt in monsoon activity in the region with rainfall suddenly jumping from - 56% in the beginning of Jul2019
to where we received more than our monthly average of rain for July (average 615.8mm) in the spate of just 10 days.

b. This extreme weather event is still ongoing (see below)

and IMetD has clamped on a RED weather warning for this region for an unprecedented number of days in a row.
In keeping with the enhanced rain, we have had a quantum increase in landslide activity in the Darjeeling Himalayas:
  -    We have had 2 fatalities due to landslides directly and another 4 when a vehicle carrying tourists plunged into the Teesta river on National Highway (NH)10. NH31A also had landslides in July2019.
  -   NH10, an arterial road connecting Sikkim to the rest of the country has been blocked for the past 2 days and so have virtually all the roads out of Kalimpong towards Sikkim and the Dooars plains. NH55 which links Darjeeling to Siliguri is cut off at places and the services of the DHR have been suspended.
 -   There have been a spate of landslides all over the districts of Kalimpong and Darjeeling. We will be giving more details on the landslides in this blog.

Praful Rao,
Kalimpong district,
Darjeeling-Sikkim Himalaya