Monday, July 27, 2009

The Pashyor Joint Inspection - 10Jul2009

Pashyor has been featured on this blog many times and is an area on the western face of Kalimpong. The landslide situation here is grim with the entire hillside being slowly dragged downwards by the many and fast flowing jhoras which dissect this region.
No landslide prevention work (such as jhora training) has been undertaken here for decades and this has led to a situation where a sustained, multipronged and expensive effort will now be required to arrest further deterioration in this area - if this is possible at all.
I am satisfied that two of the key players of the Govt Depts ie the Irrigation and Forest Dept officials have seen the area for themselves and will table their findings at the appropriate levels.

Praful Rao

Monday, July 20, 2009

STH Storm watch - (03/2009)

Placed above are the warnings and satellite photo of meteorological situation developing in the Bay of Bengal at 1600h IST on 20Jul2009. SMS alerts have been sent.

Praful Rao

Excerpts from "Landslides in Darjeeling Town"

Landslide is perhaps the most rampant environmental hazard threatening the Darjeeling town itself. During or after monsoon landslips create havoc in and around the Darjeeling township area. Numerous slips have occurred in the past however the intensity, cause and severity of the slide are being recorded since 1899.
Up to the first half of the present century there were certain regulations for the commercialization of the hill slopes, but since independence in a desperate attempt to acquire as much arable land as possible, extensive area under forest cover was gradually encroached upon. The ever increasing number of people haphazardly settled in a every bit of land available. During the British period it was made a rule that forest on the upper part of the hills should not be brought under ordinary commercial forest management. They had the notion of the ecological disaster that it would bring if these forests were denuded. But after independence, the demand for timber increased at an unprecedented rate and even the upper layer of the forest was not spared. Even after mass afforestation programme have been implemented a big gap remains between felling and replanting. It has been estimated that 70% of the cooking energy needs of the people is still being met by firewood. Needless and reckless obliteration of forests along with unscientific use of slopes especially in construction works coupled with geological, rainfall and slope characteristics have changed the scenario completely.
As a result Darjeeling one of the most densely populated tourist center in comparable environment exits on the verge of an environmental catastrophe as with just one concentrated shower of 50 mm/h would initiate numerous landslides endangering the lives and properties of the local inhabitants.
For a better understanding of the geographical distribution of landslip-prone areas in Darjeeling town, the following five categories of susceptibility zones have been identified:
Class I – Extremely high slip prone zone:
Almost after every torrential rain these tracts experience slips. They are mostly found on eastern lope of Jalapahar-Katapahar ridge it mainly covering the areas like Alubari, Munpari bustee, Toongsong, Pandam tea garden. Bhutia bustee and Hermitage, eastern lope of Lebong spur, it around Ging and Bannock - burn tea gardens and in small pockets on western slope of the Lebong spur i.e. Pattabong and Rangit tea gardens. It is also noticed a long western part of the town below Batasia.
Class II – Very high slip prone zone
These are the areas where slips occur for more than 5 times in 10 years. They are found along both the eastern and western slopes of the edge. i.e. upper Alubari, upper Toongsoong, along Tenzing Norge road, C.R. Das Road, eastern slope of Mall, below Raj Bhavan. It is also to be found on both sides of Lebong spur mainly in the tea gardens of Bannock-burn, Rangit and Pattabong. On the western slopes of the ridge it covers Rajbari bustee, Kagjhora, Victoria Falls, Dr. Zakir Hussain bustee, Dhobitala, around the jail, below the railway station, Lochanger, Haridashatta and Singamari.
Class III – High slip prone zone :
It covers the western spur of the town along the Hill Cart Road, Gandhi Road, Nimkidara, Police line, Marry Villa, Maypuri, Upper Kagjhora, below the convent cemetery, Dr. Zakir Hussain Raod, along the Birch Hill spur and the Lebong spur. Here landslips occur 2-5 times in ten years.
Class IV – Moderate to low slip prone zone :
In this zone landslips occur once or twice in last ten years. It is found mostly along the ridges of Jalapahar-Katapahar up to the Mall including the bazaar area and also along the Lebong spur including the Lebong cart road.
Class V – None to negligible:
It is found in pockets on the ridge tops of the Jalapahar Katapahar ridge, the Lebong ridge (Military Cantonment) and the Observatory hill and on the top of the Birch Hill ridge where slips occur rarely.

Water Management Scenario In Darjeeling Town:
Slope instability has a direct relationship to water supply in Darjeeling town. At present the town almost wholly depends on the supply of 182000 m3 of drinking water from 3 lakes of Senchal ridge. Taking the UN human water requirement standard of 0.076 m3 individual/ day the total demand for Darjeeling town has been estimated by the Municipality authority as 110 million gallons. Considering the present population of 10,7530 this demand will be much, more in the future, pointing to a perpetual crisis in water in Darjeeling town. There would not be any water crisis if the storage capacity could be enhanced by the construction at least five more reservoirs of the capacity of 38 thousands m3 each. But the Senchal ridge is hardly stable enough to stand such construction of reservoirs. At the most one more reservoirs can be constructed. So at present only 8 out of 26 jhoras feeding the Senchal lakes are kept alive during the monsoons and the rest cut off because there is no capacity to store. The Rockville reservoir at the centre of the town above the railway station was affected by landslip in 1950 and it was feared that the reservoir also might be damaged and it’s bursting might cause further damage. The area that slipped involved only the superficial layer of sandy clay and boulders originally resting at an angle 40 degrees, which is greater than the angle of repose for such materials. Lubrications further lowered the angle of repose and caused the slip.

Nearly 100 m length of the topmost water pipe line located on the eastern slope of Darjeeling – Jalapahar ridge was damaged during 1950 monsoon. Slips had damaged and twisted the pipe at various places causing temporary stoppage to water supply. The damages to pipes can be prevented burying them underground. This however would be costly and frequent inspection is not possible. However some protective measures should be provided to the pipelines in order to protect them against the impact of falling materials. In 1988 & 1993 landslides damaged water pipe lines in different parts of Darjeeling also. During tourist season when the population doubles itself, the water problem reaches its maximum these months (April to June and late September to November). The hotel bribes the municipal authorities to divert the maximum water to their establishments by tapping the pipelines. In such situations the local people the most badly affected lot. It is true that landslides affect the water supply in the Darjeeling town but for aggravating the problem it is man himself who is to be blamed. Depletion of forests and the increase in average run - off (about 2180, 86 mm at present) has helped in drying up of many local springs, which used to supply water to local people. The situation has deteriorated further in recent years. Villages have to walk a few kilometers in search of water during non-monsoon months and even the tourists living in moderate hotels have to pay five to ten for a bucket of water during peak tourist season in the month of May (2003 and 2004).
Conclusion: In view of the ever increasing problems of landslide in Darjeeling town man must be aware of the possible dangers that he is inviting due to the careless dealing with nature. It is true that one has to make room for the growing population and in this pursuit he has to utilize every piece of land available. But the precautions that have to be adopted should not be neglected. In the town the revetments are not properly maintained, the weep holes are choked and drains are dumped with garbage, restricting free drainage of water. Moreover, the present land use system should be properly evaluated. The construction of high-rise building should be stopped immediately. The people should be provided with some alternate sources of energy through construction of Mini hydel projects, utilizing the springs, which can be an option to prevent them from cutting down more trees. Above all it should be of utmost priority to develop mass awareness among both the local people and tourists so that they become aware of the possible dangers they are inviting by interfering with natural laws.

the above excerpt is from "Landslides in Darjeeling Town" by Dr Subhash Ranjan Basu, Professor of Geomorphology and Environmental Geography, Univ of Calcutta. (the full article is available here)

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Why STH must prevail : The need for Awareness

In Sep2007, I visited an area within Kalimpong Municipal limits where a landslide had resulted in serious damage to a hotel and a private residence. The cause of the landslide was a natural drain (jhora) whose protective wall had disappeared since all the stones had been stolen.
That and scenes as the one shown above are a common sight in this part of the world. Hence the necessity for STH to continue to spread awareness about community participation in trying to control and manage the landslide problem in these hills.

Praful Rao

Monday, July 13, 2009

What ever happened to our Monsoons???

CLIMATE CHANGE: India’s Monsoon Predictions More Uncertain
By Ranjit Devraj

NEW DELHI, Jun 27 (IPS) - Predicting the monsoons - a risky proposition despite the deployment of satellites and supercomputers - appears to have become iffier thanks to climate change.

As the spectre of drought looms up across India thanks to this season’s seriously deficient monsoon - so far - it looks as if the days when India’s farming was referred to as a ‘gamble with the monsoons’ are returning.

"There is growing evidence to suggest that climate change is making the monsoons more unpredictable and worsening the severity of events like floods and droughts," Vinuta Gopal, energy and climate change campaigner for Greenpeace, told IPS.

Gopal says that while there is no scientific evidence yet to link this year’s truant monsoon to climate change, what is clear is that the "modelling systems of the Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) cannot make predictions with any degree of accuracy." This means that farmers cannot depend on the forecasts to time sowing, harvesting and all that goes in between.

"Farmers we [Greenpeace] spoke with in the four southern states [Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka] told us that even traditional methods of forecasting have become undependable," Gopal said. "What is certain is that the intensity and frequency of storms and spells of rain and drought are becoming commonplace, but exactly how precipitation patterns are changing is still to be worked out."

On Apr. 17, IMD made an optimistic initial forecast for the South-West Monsoon that said that countrywide average cumulative rainfall for the season would be 96 percent of long-term average, allowing five percent either way for model error.

But this week India’s Minister for Science and Technology Prithviraj Chauhan scaled that down to 93 percent of the 89 cm (35 inches) of rainfall that ought to fall in the June-September monsoon season - if major crops such as sugarcane, oilseeds and rice are not to suffer.

Chauhan’s announcement brought gloom to a country hoping to make up for recessionary trends through a good harvest. Only a third of India’s arable land is irrigated - with the rest depending on monsoon rainfall and on underground water pumped up from aquifers using bore wells.

The last time India suffered a drought was in 2002, when economic growth slumped to four percent, dramatically illustrating the impact of monsoons on the economy. The following year when India had the best rainfall in five years, the economic growth sprang back to 8.5 percent. In 2004, the rains were the second lowest in two decades and growth slowed to 6.9 percent. The nine percent growth India experienced in 2005 and 2007 was accompanied by normal rainfall during those years.

Pradhan Parth Sarthi, a climate scientist with the prestigious Energy Research Institute, told IPS that the Indian summer monsoon remains a "complex and mysterious phenomenon" and that it is a hard task for any meteorologist to predict its course and precipitation "through existing statistical and dynamical models."

"While climate change has little impact on average annual rainfall, going by rainfall data studied over a 100-year period, it is seen that during the monsoons heavy to very heavy rainfall is increasing in some areas and rainfall of lowered intensity is decreasing in other areas. These trends compensate each other in terms of net rainfall but they can be disruptive of normal agriculture," Sarthi said.

El Niño (abnormal rise in sea surface temperature over the equatorial central Pacific Ocean), one of several factors that can delay or cause a failure of the monsoons, seems to have caused a 50 percent reduction in normal rainfall in June, Sarthi said. "We are hoping that the situation will revive in July, the principal rainy season, when El Niño weakens over the central, equatorial Pacific Ocean."

"El Niño is already known to cause droughts and it will be fair to say that global warming may act to exacerbate these extreme events," Sarthi observed.

"Although it is impossible to predict the effects of global warming on the frequency of El Niños, all indications seem to be that they are becoming stronger, more common, and are no longer disappearing completely," says Kevin E. Trenberth, a lead author of the 2001 and 2007 United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)’s scientific assessments of climate change. "In other words, the Pacific doesn’t seem to be reverting to ‘normal’ anymore," Trenberth says in a report for the David Suzuki foundation.

For Gopal what is truly worrisome is a complacent attitude in which anomalous weather conditions are gradually becoming accepted as normal - and this despite a series of catastrophic events over the last few years.

In 2006, Cherrapunji in India’s northeast - famed as the wettest place on earth - received considerably lower amounts of rainfall, whereas arid, desert states such as western Rajasthan received unusual amounts of rainfall, bringing in its wake all manner of calamities, including diseases.

The July 2005 Mumbai deluge wreaked havoc in the western metropolis, causing billions of dollars of damage and the loss of hundreds of lives. Surging floodwaters triggered by the 2002 monsoon killed more than 800 people in Bangladesh, India and Nepal and displaced millions. This year Cyclone Aila devastated coastal Bangladesh leaving over 24,000 people homeless, and destroying large tracts of mangrove forests.

"The intensity and frequency of freak spells of rain and drought, cyclones and storms are only getting worse by the year. Science increasingly suggests that climate change is going to change the pattern of the Indian monsoon," Gopal said.

After assessing historical data, the IPCC in its fourth assessment report in 2007 suggested that "warming in India is likely to be above the average for South Asia, with an increase in summer precipitation and an increase in the frequency of intense precipitation in some parts."

According to the IPCC the Indian monsoons are going to undergo gross changes as a direct result of climate change with increased rainfall in the summer monsoon, but with uneven distribution across India.

Gopal predicts climate change will likely to lead to a stronger but more variable monsoon until 2100. Thereafter, with the melting of the Greenland ice sheet and its effects on temperatures in the North Atlantic, and in turn, the pattern of the North Atlantic Ocean circulation, the grip on the monsoon will weaken.

"What is imminent and looming large are the dire consequences of a climate- changed monsoon," Gopal said.

Close to two-thirds of humanity live within regions influenced by the Asian monsoon and depend on the water that it brings to support agriculture, and supply potable water.

The Indian subcontinent lies close to the centre of the monsoonal region, and despite a gradual shift away from agriculture, India is still largely an agrarian state with agriculture accounting for a third of its Gross Domestic Product. Only about 40 percent of the land is irrigated - leaving farmers exposed to the vagaries of monsoons.

India’s farming is focused on feeding domestic demand and follows the country’s long-held policy of maintaining food self-sufficiency.

Link :


Comment by Praful Rao

This year with the rains we took a massive beating during Cyclone Aila ( 24-27May09 ) thereafter June was largely dry with our receiving only a third (approx 200mm) of our normal rainfall (approx 600mm). July thus far, has also been almost dry except for the 02Jul09 when we, in Kalimpong, recd 114mm of rain during a 12 hour period (Darjeeling recd just 25mm). In the above article italics are mine.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

The Nimbong visit (06July2009) - a report.

Nimbong, 71kms by road from Kalimpong,
is a sleepy little hamlet within Kalimpong sub-division.
Nimbong Gram Panchayat - GP (Slide 1) has a population of around 7000 and is no stranger to landslides. In July1996, 36 people perished in landslides in this area. Cyclone Aila miraculously spared Nimbong even though the pine forests from Kafer to Nimbong seemed to have taken a severe beating but barely a week later, on 02Jul09, one day’s torrential rain (starting from approx 5pm and going right thru the night) caused severe damage to Nimbong and the adjoining Pabringtar (also called Barbot) area.
I visited this area on 06Jun09 and here is my report :-

1) The devastation was much too apparent as one approached Nimbong town (Slide 2), the hillsides were scarred by numerous slips (Slide 3).

2) The town itself is lodged on a ridge but what I noticed was the absence of any drainage system within the town; perhaps as a result, landslides have occurred from the ridge behind one of the houses.

3) We had to walk down to Barbot since the road from Nimbong to Barbot was (ie the Bagrakote – Lava road) was sliced up at numerous places by landslides. Two bull dozers were clearing the rubble but it would take some days before the road would be opened for traffic (Slide 4).

4) I walked back from Barbot thru the lower (rural) parts of Nimbong. This area has numerous natural drains (jhoras) (Slide 5) ploughing thru the paddy fields and almost every jhora had caused a landslide. Farmers here seem to have lost a lot of arable land to landslides.

5) Towards the end of a 2hr walk in rural Nimbong we reached Central Gaon (village). Here there is a gigantic landslide (Slide 6) which first started in 1996. The landslide has caused ruin to the entire village (Slide 7) and the areas immediately above it (Slide 8) and seems virtually uncontrollable now. People from here and adjoining areas must be relocated to a safer place as also people from Ghanti Dara where there is another huge landslide. The latter slide began almost entirely on 02Jun09 as per the local people.
Already at Centre Gaon, 21 people have moved their belongings to a Primary School (Slide 9) and more people are ready evacuate.

6) What was apparent was that Nimbong and the surrounding areas had been severely affected in the one day downpour on 02Jul09 and here geology and rock structure of the area may be the main cause since the earth seemed to literally crumbling at so many places.

Praful Rao

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

From the Telegraph today (06Jul2009)

Forest funds hitch in hill road repair RAJEEV RAVIDAS

Kalimpong, July 6: For villagers of Nimbong and Pabringtar, last week’s landslides could only be a precursor to a long period of hardship as the road link to Bakrakote, the lifeline for the area, could take a while to restore. The landslides, according to the villagers in Kalimpong Block I, have damaged the road in many places, a major portion of which belongs to the forest department. And the problem lies there. The Kalimpong division of the West Bengal Forest Development Corporation said unavailability of funds could delay the work. At a time when even the staff salaries were being paid from funds meant for other divisions, arranging money for other work would be difficult, said U. Ghosh, the divisional manager. “The disruption is hampering our protection work as well, but the fact is that we don’t have any money of our own.” The corporation has not been able to engage itself in timber trade following the yearlong ban imposed by the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha as part of its agitation for Gorkhaland. The corporation earns between Rs 9 crore and Rs 12 crore annually by auctioning off timber grown in the subdivision. “We are trying (to get the ban lifted), and have been in talks with the political party (read Morcha),” said Ghosh. However, that is little consolation to villagers for whom the road is the lifeline. Edwin Subba, a Morcha leader, said Bakrakote in the plains was 25km from Nimbong and from there it was easier to reach Siliguri. “We bring all our supplies through this road. Now with the road damaged, prices of all items will go up,” he added. In fact, the villages were cut off from the rest of the world till yesterday when the road link to Kalimpong via Kafer was restored. The other and shorter road to the subdivisional headquarters via Khani and Relli, too, is blocked because of multiple landslides. “The relief materials sent by the administration reached us last night and were distributed today,” Subba said over the phone from Borbat, 5km from Nimbong. The 35-odd families hit by landslides in the area are living with their relatives. “The landslide has taken away our house and our land. People from the block development office have taken our records, but I don’t know what good will come out of it,” said Chandramaya, the daughter-in-law of B.B. Mangar, the lone landslide casualty.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Rainfall data of Jun2008/2009 and an update on the landslide scenario

On 02/03July2009, Kalimpong subdivision was lashed by torrential rains totally 114mm over a 12 hr period. The landslide update is as follows:-
a) NH31A from Siliguri to Gangtok was cut off at 4 places and communication on this highway was restored only in the afternoon on 03Jul2009.
b) About 1000 people were affected by landslides.
c) 81 homes were fully damaged
d) 90 homes were partially damaged
e) 1 person died at Barbot near Nimbong.

Comments by Praful Rao
Rainfall data obtained from Compuset, Darjeeling. Photo of NH31A by Mr Kundan Yolmo. My thanks to both.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

An excerpt from "Deaf to the Countdown" by H.E Gopalkrishna Gandhi, Governor, W Bengal

How long can we live in denial of imminent annihilation?

"The year 2020 is a mere 11 years away. The end of this century is just nine decades away. Will our grandchildren and our great grandchildren see it? We have no reason to feel assured. We have every reason to worry. And great need, an existential need, in fact, to act. And yet, far from worrying and very far from acting, we are in
…………………………We, in India, take just pride in our exciting space venture, Chandrayaana. That huge undertaking is important for us. But in the scheme of life, while there is such a thing as the important, there is also such a thing as the urgent. When, from our mountains to our oceans, our terais to our beaches, we see human interventions scooping the soul out of our heritage, when plastic garbage grows like an indestructible fungus over every inch of public space, when cement structures grow like pustules over public and private space, when our Himalayan forests struggle, when our glaciers shrink, when our rivers grow low or thick with silt and pollutants, our aquifers begin to dry and die, and the air we breathe is laden with toxic gases, we need, alongside Chandrayaana, with equal magnificence and equal success, a Prithviyaana, which includes a Himayaana, a Vanayaana, a Jalayaana and a Vaayuyaana as well.

More importantly, we need to modify the Mahayaana of mindless growth propelled by bulk consumers of energy and fuel into a Hinayaana of ecological intelligence and human responsibility."

H.E Gopalkrishna Gandhi
West Bengal

Comment by Praful Rao

The full article is available here.
Photo credit : Rabin Rai, Darjeeling