Friday, December 31, 2010

A positive ending to 2010

If we must work against the huge landslide problem in the Darjeeling - Sikkim Himalaya, it must be on a multidimensional level where we improve our land use planning, utilize engineering and bio- engineering methods to mitigate landslides, mobilize and train our communities, create awareness at different levels, manage our drainage systems better, establish an effective early warning system  and perhaps induct new technology where it is available and affordable.
Towards this end, some time in mid 2010, I came across what I believe is an effective and affordable means of checking soil erosion : Vetiver Grass.
Much is available on the soil binding properties and many uses of this plant on the internet, but SaveTheHills has decided to procure a small quantity (around 5-8000 saplings) of the grass and plant this grass in some very landslide prone areas of Kalimpong (CHIBO/PASHYOR and maybe SINDEBUNG) during the monsoons of 2011.
I am glad to state that we have identified the source and finalized the procurement formalities and we will undertaking the planting with the help of the many horticulture experts amongst us during the monsoons of 2011.

Praful Rao

Monday, December 13, 2010

A milestone : At the National Institute of Disaster Management, New Delhi

NIDM in New Delhi is the country's premier institution for imparting training on Disaster Management, as such it was a privilege to be talking there on the "Landslide scenario in Kalimpong and our work with the community" during a 5 day comprehensive training program from 06-11Dec2010 on Landslide Risk Management.
The course was attended by 21 Government officials from 7 states and included geologists, engineers, state civil servants, BRTF personnel and scientist.
The course report in pdf format is here

Praful Rao

Saturday, December 4, 2010

STH activities at Kolkata (30Nov2010) and New Delhi (10Dec2010)

NIDM has organized a 5 day "Comprehensive Landslide Risk Mitigation and Management" training program at New Delhi from 06Dec-10Dec2010. STH will be participating both as trainee and a resource person.

Praful Rao

Saturday, November 27, 2010

From the Newspapers today (27Nov2010). DARJEELING: Illegal urban construction posing natural disaster threat to Darjeeling

Frymal village, Darjeeling (Cyclone Aila May2009)

Darjeeling (West Bengal), Nov.27 (ANI) : The massive construction of high-rise buildings, a majority of them illegal, has led to a degradation of the soil texture in the Darjeeling Hills area of West Bengal state, and has made the place vulnerable to landslides, feel experts.
A series of landslides has hit Darjeeling and its surrounding areas since May 2009, triggered off by overnight rains and floods.
Local builders seem to have ignored this threat and public concern.
Talking to media persons about the problem, West Bengal Urban Development and Municipal Affairs Minister Ashok Narayan Bhattacharya said the state government has asked the local civic body to take measures to curb illegal construction.
“There is no reason behind the illegal construction. The builders are violating the rules. There is no fear of government in Darjeeling. Nobody has been caught till now. Now, the situation is improving. The situation will only improve when the municipal authorities work together with the local people,” said Bhattacharya.
Geologists say the construction of unauthorized buildings coupled with improper drainage systems has led to landslides in the region in the past.
“Since the end of 1970s and beginning of 1980s, there has been a real estate boom in all countries, and Darjeeling is no exception. There are now innumerable high-rise buildings, and, I do not know whether a building restriction rule still exists. There is no one to look after this. I do not know how they (the builders) are getting no objection certificates for constructing eight to nine-storeyed buildings in the hills,” said Subir Sarkar, a meteorological expert.
Situated at a height of 2,134 meters, Darjeeling was developed as a hill station by the British, who wanted to escape the heat of the plains.
As time passed, Darjeeling town has emerged as a tourist destination.

- Excerpt from Himalayan Beacon of 27Nov2010

Praful Rao

Sunday, November 21, 2010

STH activities : Documentary film on Landslides- 20Nov2010

Magic Lantern Foundation (MLF) is a Delhi based non-profit organization working with culture and human rights and using the medium of films and documentaries to highlight issues.
Sometime ago I was contacted by Ms Priyanka Chhabra, a young film director who is currently with MLF about doing a documentary film on "The Need for Adaptation to Climate Change" with special emphasis on the impact of climate change on landslides in Darjeeling in the state of W Bengal (the whole documentary was to be done on impacts of climate change in four states ie Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu, M.P and W.B)
After doing an initial tour of landslide affected areas around Kalimpong a month ago, the MLF team was with us for the last 3 days shooting at the chosen landslide sites and documenting the experiences, helplessness of many, many anonymous landslide affected people in the vicinity of Kalimpong.
The above photo shows a part of the team shooting in the paddy fields of Sindebung village  (a badly mauled area in the underbelly of Kalimpong which has been featured in this blog numerous times)

Praful Rao

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Book on Landslide Hazards of Kalimpong : Ranit Chatterjee

Ranit Chatterjee is a young,effervescent and effusive man who is now in UNDP.
He was with us (STH) at Kalimpong for almost 3 weeks in Mar2010 as a part of internship from Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), Mumbai. While here, he associated himself with all our activities and almost became a part of the community at CHIBO (a village in a highly landslide prone area of Kalimpong) where he stayed for much of his internship here.

I am sure that the book authored by him is the outcome of this stay here and look forward to reading it, I also I look forward to more students from TISS coming over for their internship (we met them during our participation at the 1st Indian Landslide Congress, at Lucknow on the 01-02No2010).

Praful Rao

Sunday, November 7, 2010

STH Stormwatch : Cyclone "JAL" in the Bay of Bengal (07Nov2010)

Even though Cyclone JAL (which is literally cooking up a storm in the Bay of Bengal) is unlikely to affect us, it is our endeavor to track all cyclones and depressions in the bay (since most of the landslides in the Darjeeling-Sikkim Himalayas are rain-induced).
As such this year, there have been three cyclones which formed in the Bay of Bengal starting with Cyclones LAILA (20May2010), GIRI (22Oct2010), and JAL (07Nov2010).
Luckily, none of the cyclones or depressions resulted in extreme rainfall events and consequently there were no major landslides in Darjeeling district (not so with Sikkim where landslides caused major problems especially along the highways and roads this year).

Praful Rao

Friday, November 5, 2010

STH activity update: The 1st Indian Landslide Congress, Lucknow, 01-02Nov2010

4 Members of STH (including the undersigned) attended the 1st ILC at the Birbal Sahni Institute of Paleobotany, Lucknow on the 01-02Nov2010. While the Congress gave us an excellent opportunity to interact and learn from some of the finest minds in the field of landslide research, it also allowed us to talk about the serious landslide problem in the Darjeeling Sikkim Himalaya to a national audience.
I am thankful to Dr Rakesh Avasthy and the organizers of the 1st ILC for holding this congress on a form of disaster which otherwise gets a backseat in all disaster management meetings.

Praful Rao

Thursday, October 28, 2010

End of SW Monsoons (2010)

An excerpt of the email from the Flood Met Office, Jalpaiguri is placed below :-

From: Flood Meteorological office Jalpaiguri Sealpara
Date: Thu, Oct 28, 2010 at 3:46 PM
Subject: Withdrawal of South-West monsoon, 2010.


South West Monsoon, 2010 has withdrawn from Sub-Himalayan West Bengal and Sikkim on 28-10-2010. As such, flood watch maintained by this office since 01-06-2010 will be discontinued with effect from 29-10-2010.

G N Raha
Flood Meteorological Office

Praful Rao

Friday, October 22, 2010

STH Stormwatch : Update on Cyclone GIRI

One of the objectives of STH is to monitor adverse weather phenomenon which might trigger landslides with a  view to fore warn communities. To that extent we have tracked the two cyclones (LAILA and GIRI)  and two depressions which formed in the Bay of Bengal thus far in 2010.
Placed above is an image of GIRI from the TRMM website and the projected track by JTWC (US Navy)

Praful Rao

Update on CYCLONE GIRI (25Oct2010)

Thousands of people have been left homeless by a cyclone that struck western Burma on Friday.
Cyclone Giri cut many communication links to Rakhine state, and only now is the full extent of the damage emerging.
Residents say about four-thousand people have lost their homes, and that Buddhist monks and nuns have set up relief shelters.
"Damage to property is huge. Nearly all the houses made of bamboo and thatch were completely destroyed," businessman Ko Kyaw Khin said.
- excerpt from Australia News Network

Thursday, October 21, 2010

STH Stormwatch : Cyclone "GIRI" in the Bay of Bengal 21Oct2010

Excerpt from IMD report

Sub: Cyclonic storm “GIRI” over eastcentral Bay of Bengal

"The deep depression over eastcentral Bay of Bengal remained practically stationary, intensified into a cyclonic storm “GIRI” and lay centred at 1130 hrs IST of today, the 21st October 2010 over the same area near latitude 17.50N and 91.50E, about 350 km south-southwest of Sittwe (Myanmar), 450 km south of Cox Bazar (Bangladesh) and 650 km southeast of Digha (West Bengal, India).
The current environmental conditions and numerical weather prediction (NWP) models suggest that the system would intensify further into a severe cyclonic storm. It would move northwards initially and then north-northeastwards and cross north Myanmar and adjoining Bangladesh coasts by tomorrow, the 22nd October 2010 evening between Teknaf (Bangladesh) and Kyaukpyu (Myanmar) near Sittwe (Myanmar)."

Praful Rao

Italics are mine

STH Stormwatch : Another depression forms in the Bay of Bengal (21Oct2010)

Whereas the India Meteorological Dept (IMD) in its End of Monsoon Season 2010 report states that "2010 has been the only year in the recorded history after 2002, to have no depressions during the entire season", two depressions have brewed up in quick succession in the Bay of Bengal in as many weeks in mid Oct2010.
Placed above are the IR image  and position of the depression in the bay at 0800h as on 21Oct2010.
As per the IMD,
"the current environmental conditions and numerical weather prediction (NWP) models suggest that the system would intensify further into a deep depression. It would move initially northwards and then north-northeastwards towards north Myanmar and south Bangladesh coasts during next 48 hours."
STH will post updates on the system on this blog as and when necessary.

Praful Rao

Saturday, October 16, 2010

STH Stormwatch : A Depression in the Bay of Bengal (update as on 16Oct2010)

Excerpt as From All India weather report "Night" (15Oct2010)

Synoptic Features based on 1730 hrs IST
The deep depression over northwest Bay of Bengal moved westwards and lay centred at 1730 hours IST of today, the 15th October 2010 over northwest Bay of Bengal, close to Orissa coast near lat. 19.5 °N and long. 85.5 °E, about 50 km south-southwest of Puri (Orissa) and 90km east-northeast of Gopalpur (Orissa). The deep depression would move west-northwestward and cross Orissa coast between Gopalpur and
Puri during next six hours.

Praful Rao

Thursday, October 14, 2010

STH Stormwatch : Tracking the depression (14Oct2010)

Excerpt from the India Meteorological Dept  "Midday" weather report of 14Oct2010

The depression over east central and adjoining northwest and west central Bay of Bengal remained practically stationary and lay centred at 0830 hours IST of today over the same area near lat. 18.0 °N and long. 88.5 °E, about 550 km east of Visakhapatnam, 430 km southeast of Gopalpur and 400 km south-southeast of Digha. It is likely to intensify further into a deep depression and move west-northwestward and cross Orissa coast between Gopalpur and Paradip by 15th October evening.

Praful Rao

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

STH Stormwatch : A Depression in the Bay of Bengal 13Oct2010

Major Feature of Weather Forecast (upto 1730 hours IST of 16th October, 2010)
♦ Fairly widespread rain/thundershowers would occur over Orissa, West Bengal & Sikkim, northeastern States and Andaman & Nicobar

STH is monitoring the progress of this storm as a part of early warning to vulnerable communities

Praful Rao

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Seminar on Himalayan Environment

For those interested,

Unfortunately, STH will NOT be able to attend, we will be on our way to attend the 1st Indian Landslide Congress in Lucknow, where we have already sent our write-ups and also contributed 72 hi-resolution photos for the photo exhibition. You can read about the Congress here

Praful Rao

Friday, October 8, 2010

STH Stormwatch : Tracking the depression (08Oct2010)

Heavy and intense rainfall is the main trigger for landslides in this area and as such one of the roles of STH is to monitor rainfall and warn communities. Placed above is an update (IR and Doppler radar image) on the depression (see last post) as it crossed the coast.
Sadly India Meteorological Department (IMetD) warns of YET ANOTHER low pressure which may form in the central Bay of Bengal in the next few days.

For those interested in monitoring the movement of the storms in the Bay of Bengal on the internet, the link is here

Praful Rao

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Rainy days ahead.

Hopefully this system is the last for 2010!

Praful Rao

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Indirect impact of landslides

In a text book example of how  landslides indirectly impact communities, a story was published in the today's Telegraph on the severe cooking gas shortages in the three main towns of Darjeeling district (Kalimpong, Kurseong & Darjeeling).

Extracts of the report are published below:-

More trucks to end LPG shortage
Kalimpong, Oct. 4: The Indian Oil Corporation has increased its fleet of trucks from 29 to 35 to ferry LPG cylinders to the hills, expecting to make up for the shortage of cooking gas that has been plaguing the hills for the past four months.
The shortage of supplies had been because of road breaches triggered by landslides.
“Trucks had to take a detour because of the road breaches, besides reducing the carrying capacity by more than 30 per cent (ferrying less cylinders than what they actually can),” said A.T. Roy, area manager, LPG division, IOC.
Cooking gas consumers in the hills were forced to make alternative arrangement to keep the kitchen fire burning. The LPG scarcity — primarily because of bad roads — had been lingering for about four months.
A major breach at Paglajhora on NH55 that connects Siliguri with Darjeeling is yet to be repaired, forcing the trucks carrying LPG cylinders to take a detour via Mungpoo.
With the Dasain festivities only a couple of weeks away, many people were seriously thinking of cutting down on the number of food items in order to save on gas.
“I had to dust my old kerosene stove to minimise the usage of LPG cylinders,” said Binita Singh, a resident of East Main Road here.
The situation is no better in Darjeeling and Kurseong. “Yes, we, too, are being able to get the LPG cylinders refilled once in two months. In fact, we had to get a filled cylinder from our brother in Siliguri to keep the kitchen fire burning,” said Bishal Lama, a resident of Dow Hill in Kurseong.

Praful Rao

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Rainfall data Sep2010

The rainfall data of Sep2010 is placed above.
Kurseong again leads with more than normal rainfall, whereas both Kalimpong and Darjeeling have a deficiency in rainfall.
Half the month was dry in Kurseong and Darjeeling whereas in Kalimpong it only rained (equal or more than 5mm) for 9days!
Darjeeling district has remained largely unscathed by landslides this month with no death reported.
I wonder whether this is a trend we are seeing since IMetD records show that in Sep2009 (-37%) and Sep2008 (-31%) we had a deficient rainfall in Darjeeling district.
Of course,  it was a different matter
in Sep2007 when we had a whopping 71% excess in rainfall with massive destruction all over Sikkim and Darjeeling and that was when STH was born. For those interested the first landslide report by STH is here

Praful Rao

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Withdrawal of SW monsoons : 28Sep2010

One of the important roles of STH is to vigilantly monitor the weather over this region during the monsoons with a view to forewarn communities about impending periods of heavy/intense rainfall (which is the main trigger for most of the landslides in this region). 
Thanks to modern technology viz broadband internet & SMS etc and friends who are senior meteorologists we have been able to accomplish this task to considerable degree.
Also from Jun2010 we were able to monitor rainfall on a daily basis in the district with the 3 automatic rainfall gauges installed at Kalimpong, Kurseong and Darjeeling - the monthly rainfall being posted on this blog with a short analysis.
As a part of this role, the latest position of the SW monsoons is shown on the excerpt from the India Meteorology website
Praful Rao

Monday, September 20, 2010

The need for awareness and why STH must prevail

Slowly but surely anthropogenic factors are coming to the fore as one of the main causes of landslides in the Darjeeling-Sikkim Himalaya & in this, perhaps the key issue is the drainage  system (both man-made and natural) in the urban and rural areas.
The photos exemplify the state of most of our drains in the urban areas (top) and the condition of our jhoras (natural drains) on the periphery of all the towns (bottom).
STH, has in the past 3 yrs carried out almost 50 awareness workshops/seminars etc. It is clear that this drive must be intensified to bring about a fundamental change in the mindset of our communities in order to reverse the damage we are causing to these mountains by our callousness.

Praful Rao

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

STH's third anniversary and our official logo.

3 Years of Existence

SaveTheHills (STH) is  3 years old today and here is a recap of our achievements and failings:-

1.  STH is today a registered NGO working on the landslide hazard issue in the Darjeeling/Sikkim Himalayas.
2. We have been able to highlight the seriousness of the landslide problem in this region at the national and state levels - in so doing we are urging a long term, comprehensive solution be sought.
STH has conducted/ participated in or organized 47 big and small awareness camps/ workshops and seminars and our audience has been as diverse as villagers, professors, students, police officers, government officials and politicians.
4. Our paper on the landslide problem of Chibo-Pashyor villages of Kalimpong is now part of the official papers of the 2nd India Disaster Management Congress held at Vigyan Bhavan, New Delhi in Nov2009.
5. We have installed automatic rainfall gauges at Kalimpong and Kurseong and along with the one already existing at Darjeeling are able to keep a daily tab on the rainfall in these 3 major towns of the district. A monthly record of the rainfall in these towns along with a short analysis is published every month on this blog (from Jun2010).
6. Our maps of landslide affected areas are much more accurate thanks to Google Maps and imports from GPS.
7. With the help of India Meteorological Department we have established a rudimentary SMS based early warning system which has been functional throughout the monsoons of 2010. Under this system, heavy rainfall warnings are SMSed by Gangtok Regional Met office to a number of prominent NGOs who in turn pass on the warnings to communities in areas where they operate.
8. We carried out Community Based Disaster Risk Management on an experimental basis in Chibo-Pashyor villages of Kalimpong. In so doing we trained some young volunteer men and women in first aid (thanks to the army) and we also gave them some basic first aid and rescue equipment.
9. STH has been featured in a number of national magazines and newspapers inclusive of Tehelka, Planet-Earth, Times of Disaster Management, Telegraph, Talk Sikkim etc. STH won the Manthan Award South Asia (MASA) in Dec2009 and has also been featured a number of times in this prestigious landslide blog.

1. Without a doubt our most important weakness is lack of funds. This inhibits our work on a much larger scale where we could
a) Conduct a massive awareness drive in the district and Sikkim.
b) Update the inventory of landslides including those increasingly due to anthropogenic factors.
c) Continue with CBDRM and capacity building measures in vulnerable areas.
We are working hard to change this situation.

STH would like to thank Mr Gaurav Mani Pradhan for designing a most appropriate logo for us

Praful Rao

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Keeping tab on the rainfall

For several days now India Meteorological Department (Kolkata) has the following warning on this website
"Heavy to very heavy rain may occur at a few places over Darjeeling, Jalpaiguri and Coochbehar districts of Sub-Himalayan West Bengal during next 24 hours. Heavy rain may also occur at isolated places over Bihar, Sikkim and remaining districts of Sub-Himalayan West Bengal during next 24 hours."
The cloud picture from Satellite Kalpana-1 of today is shown and the rainfall figure of three towns are :-
1. Kalimpong (10Sep2010) - 51mm      11Sep2010 (upto 9AM) - 18mm
(At Kalimpong the rainfall has more or less stopped)
2. Kurseong (10Sep2010) - 65mm        11 Sep2010 (upto 9AM) -16mm
(It is continuing to rain heavily at Kurseong)
3. Darjeeling (10Sep2010) - 10mm       11Sep2010 (upto 9AM) - 20mm
(Whereas there was hardly any rainfall yesterday, it is raining now at Darjeeling)

Posted at 1000hrs on 11Sep2010.

Praful Rao

Friday, September 10, 2010

Landslides in Sikkim - 09Sep2010

The Jawaharlal Nehru Marg connecting Gangtok with Nathu La border was restored today afternoon by Project Swastik of Border Roads Organization (BRO).
A BRO release informs that the Jawaharlal Nehru Marg was made through for all kinds of vehicles from 3 pm due to untiring and dedicated efforts by 130 Road Construction Company OC Manoj Kumar and his team.
The work team led by Lt Col Aniruddha Sen was also successful in recovering the heavy vehicle which was struck between the two slides.
However the road is still one way and traffic regulation is required.

Story : Sikkim Express
Photo : BRO

Praful Rao

Friday, September 3, 2010

Rainfall data Aug2010

The rainfall data of Aug2010 is placed above.
Kurseong again leads with excessive rainfall, whereas there has been more or less normal rainfall in Kalimpong and Darjeeling.
For Kalimpong and Kurseong one third of the month was almost dry with less than 5mm of rain.
Darjeeling district has remained largely unscathed by landslides this month with no death reported; things were not as rosy in neighbouring Sikkim which had more than its share of landslides especially along the highways.

Praful Rao

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

A rundown of STH activities in Aug2010

1. The PR Pradhan Merit Awards, is a huge day long annual event organized by the Scottish Universities Mission Institution (S.U.M.I)  Alumni Association at the Town Hall in Kalimpong. This year the school had chosen "Preserving the Environment for the future" as its theme. STH participated with a power point presentation of the landslide problem in Kalimpong - the talk was entitled "The Mountains are talking but are we listening?"
2. On 13Aug2010, STH took part in a phone-in session regarding landslide hazards in the district organized by Himalaya Darpan, the largest selling Nepali daily in this region.
3. STH is well on its way along with DECU of ISRO, Ahmedabad towards making a documentary on landslides (see here)
4. Abstract as well as full length papers have been submitted for the 2nd World Congress on Disaster Management at Hyderabad in late Oct 2010 - the topic is " Landslide problem in Kalimpong and the need for a comprehensive, long term solution". The Congress is being organized by this society.

Praful Rao

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Landslides in Sikkim - 28Aug2010 (Extracts from Sikkim Express)


"Generally speaking, to kill people a landslide needs to move quickly rapid, and rapid landslides appear to be primarily (but note not always) triggered by intense rainfall events (indeed in the reports the term "cloudburst" often crops up). So, a key component of trying to understand the impacts of human-induced global climate change on landslides is the likely nature of changes in rainfall intensity, rather than that of rainfall total. Put another way, it is possible that the average annual rainfall for an area might decrease but the occurrence of landslides increase if the rainfall arrives in more intense bursts."                                                                                                                           - Dr DN Petley, Univ of Durham, UK

GANGTOK, August 28:
1. The unrelenting slides induced by incessant rainfall have further displaced more households in East Sikkim with 35 families shifted to safer places by the District administration today while Gangtok was cut-off from rest of the country for the second straight day due to two stubborn slides along the National Highway 31A near Government Fruit Preservation near Singtam.
2. The Project Swastik of Border Roads Organization (BRO), which looks after the national highways in Sikkim and parts of North Bengal, has managed to clear all the slides which occurred between 32nd Mile and Singtam on Thursday night.
3. The highway does have a smooth traffic but for the slides near the Government Fruit Preservation Factory forcing the commuters to walk some 200 m over the slides and take transshipment on either side.
4. The BRO Project Swastik executive engineer, AK Singh said that slides near Government Fruit Preservation Factory could not be cleared also even though three machines and sufficient manpower were deployed since first light today.
5. “We are trying our best to clear the slides by tomorrow noon. However if it rains tonight, we cannot help it”, said Singh. He pointed out that restoration works have been hampered by constant slush coming from the hill side.
6. “During our survey in the area, a considerably large artificial pond had been spotted on top the hill,” said the BRO official. The pond could have been created due to collection of underground water or supply from small streams located further uphill.
7. The seepage of water from the pond has led to sliding of more slush down the road whenever the existing muck is swept away by the machines and labourers. Whenever the muck from the road is cleared another batch of muck comes down from the hillside, the BRO official said.
8. Meanwhile, the continuous flow of slush has gathered threateningly in the staff quarters of the factory prompting the East District administration to evacuate 18 families from the quarters to safer locations.
9. SDM (East) AB Karki said that the quarters have been damaged by the slush and slides. “We shifted 18 families from the quarters and provided them relief materials,” he said.
10. The SDM also informed that two houses were damaged by slides at Sirwani near Dikchu. The families have also been shifted, he said.
11. Around 15 houses were also damaged in various degrees at Chisopani and Dochun near Singtam and the families have been shifted, said Karki. There are also reports of livestock being killed by slides, he said.

Photo credit and report from Sikkim Express - many thanks to them and for those interested the full text of Dr Petley's article is here

Praful Rao

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Landslides in and news from Sikkim

Seven landslides cut off Sikkim link Woman disappears in swirling flash flood (Telegraph, India)

Gangtok, Aug. 27: Seven landslides struck a 15km stretch of NH31A and crippled traffic on Sikkim’s only road link with the rest of the country after heavy rain lashed the Himalayan state last night. A 31-year-old woman was washed away in one of the flash floods that followed.
The landslides, four of them major ones, occurred between 32 Mile and Singtam on NH31A, the stretch littered with slush and debris that came tumbling down from the hillside late last night and early this morning.
The landslides left at least 100 vehicles coming from Siliguri stranded on the Bengal-Sikkim border at Rangpo for sometime. While some passengers tried to walk and cross the slides, others returned to Siliguri. “The vehicles — there were lots of them — were told to stay put at Singtam for the night,” said A.K. Singh, the executive engineer of Project Swastik of the Border Roads Organisation that is in charge of the highway.
The first major landslide nearest to Gangtok was at the mouth of Topakhani, a 12-metre tunnel, 23km from here.

From the Sikkim Express
State Disaster Management Authority to oversee natural calamities prevention, mitigation operations
SE Report
GANGTOK, August 25: The State government has established a ten-member State Disaster Management Authority (SDMA) headed by Chief Minister as ex-officio chairman for emergency and mobilization of resources including manpower for disaster management whenever natural calamities strike Sikkim.
The ministers for urban development, irrigation, health services, rural development, public health engineering, roads & bridges and buildings & housing departments are also members in the SDMA.
State chief secretary TT Dorji is also a member of this authority with disaster management department secretary as the member secretary.
It is informed that the SDMA shall be an authority for declaration of disaster situation and disaster areas with boundaries and declaration of emergency and mobilization of resources including manpower for relief work, rehabilitation, reconstruction, search and rescue for disaster management when disaster occurs.

Praful Rao

Photo credit : "Landslide at Namok Khola, Mangan, North Sikkim" from Sikkim Express

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Landslide in Sikkim :19Aug2010

SaveTheHills is a Kalimpong - based organization & as such our work has, for the most part been Kalimpong-centric- I am sure that this leads many to think that Kalimpong is the most landslide prone area in this region and the other major urban centres and areas in the district and in Sikkim are totally devoid of this scourge.
This perception could not be more inaccurate - I am very sure that other areas are as badly if not worse affected - it is only that the effects of this disaster form are so localized that no one except those directly affected would know or speak about landslides. Alas, this is a disaster form which nibbles away insidiously without many noticing the malaise until it is too late.
In this regard, I know that the state of Sikkim has had many more landslides this year than Darjeeling district, yet it this fact has hardly been noticed or acknowledged.

Praful Rao

Photo credit : Sikkim express

Friday, August 20, 2010

19Aug2010 : A breach on National Highway 31A (NH31A)

The above breach occurred at approx 1.30pm and I am glad to say that by the time I reached the spot at around 3.30pm the BRO had already swung into action with expectations that the highway would be open to traffic by the next day.
Even though Kalimpong had moderate rainfall in the last few days, heavy rain was reported in Sikkim due which the Teesta river was swollen and swift.
What amazes me is that maintaining NH31A during the monsoons is a huge problem with sinking areas and landslides at numerous places yet there are plans to construct a broad gauge railway line all the way from Siliguri to Rangpo along this same route (see here)!
Perhaps we have forgotten that we did have the Kalimpong element of the the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway (DHR) functioning from Siliguri to Geille Khola (short of Kalimpong) along this route upto 1950. It was closed as being to dangerous to operate after the devastating landslides of that year.

Praful Rao

Photo credits :- Chinlop Fudong Lepcha and Mukesh Sharma