Monday, December 31, 2012

Image of the Year and a lingering doubt : Will this Heritage Structure survive 2013?

In July this year, we did a story on the landslide which very nearly pulled down the Tindharia Darjeeling Himalayan Railway (A UNESCO World Heritage Site) workshop which was established in 1915. Later, I spent almost an entire day photographing the area, checking the drainage pattern and talking to locals.
Even though ambitious plans are afoot to save the Heritage site nothing has moved on ground till date and with the passage of each day, time is running out.
As we usher in a New Year, a question haunts my mind :
Will this Heritage site survive the monsoons of 2013?

Praful Rao

Thursday, December 20, 2012

STH Activities : Chasing landslides in Kalimpong

In the second week of Dec2012, I had the pleasure of interacting with Mr Debashish Bhattacharya, senior geologist from Geological Survey of India, which is the nodal body looking after landslides in the country. The GSI scientist was in Kalimpong for 10days with a mandate to update the GSI landslide inventory of this area.
I am glad to say that a group of volunteers and I could accompany the geologist to all the major landslide zones in the vicinity of Kalimpong town and also provide him assistance in visiting landslide sites in Nimbong, Suruk, Samthar, Algarah and Payun (ie places in Kalimpong sub-division but at a considerable distance from town).

All this points to the vital necessity of involvement of local people in landslide surveys by any outstation scientific body if the correct picture of the landslide situation is to emerge; because only through local participation can the GSI (or any other body) understand the past history of the area and the impact of landslides on human beings, which after all should be the final endeavor of any scientific inquiry.

Placed above are images of some ot the areas we visited along with captions. Many of the sites have links on this blog where you can read more details :-
SLIDE 1 - read further here
SLIDE 2 - read further here
SLIDE 7,8,9 - read further here

My thanks to Debashish for his time and for accompanying us on those long, steep treks as we chased landslides in Kalimpong.

Praful Rao

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Upcoming events : NATIONAL SUMMIT ON DISASTER MANAGEMENT “Forging Partnerships for Readiness and Relief” 18 – 19 December 2012, New Delhi

The Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), in partnership with the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), is organizing “National Summit on Disaster Management – “Forging Partnerships for Readiness and Relief” scheduled for 18 – 19 December 2012 at the India Habitat Centre, New Delhi. The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) is the  Institutional Partner for the Summit.

For details please visit this link.

Praful Rao

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Light at the end of the tunnel? : Tindharia/ Pagla Jhora landslides to be repaired soon.

STH has been associated with the Tindharia and Pagla Jhora landslides from Nov2011 when we did a big, well-attended workshop at Tindharia.
Thereafter, in July this year, after further landslides directly threatened the DHR workshop at Tindharia, we spent an entire day in the area checking the drainage and preparing a report for an expert and a friend (see here).
I am glad to say that the PWD will finally be taking up repairs of both the above landslide areas in the near future. You can read the Telegraph article here and this move I am sure, comes directly as an aftermath of the visit to Kolkata by the high powered NDMA team early this week (read here)

My only fear is, that is it too little - too late?

Because the way our bureaucracy groans and grinds along, by the time the work ACTUALLY starts, the monsoons of 2013 will be here and during the rainy season, we all know that major preventive work cannot really be done; all we can do then is fire fighting and emergency crisis management.
The monsoons were mild this year (which poses other problems as regards severe water shortage problems in the Mar-May2013) so we did not have major landslides in our area.

In an age where we should increasingly be expecting the unexpected, aren't we pushing our luck too far to for hope this trend to continue?

Praful Rao

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Why we ought to be bothered ...

Economies of Bangladesh, Philippines, Myanmar, India, Viet Nam at highest risk (excerpt from Maplecroft Natural Hazards  Risk Atlas)

Some of Asia’s most important growth economies have the highest financial risk from the threat of natural hazards, due to the high exposure of their cities and trading hubs to events such as flooding, earthquakes and tropical cyclones, according to the 2nd Natural Hazards Risk Atlas released by Maplecroft.
Bangladesh, the Philippines, Myanmar, India and Viet Nam are among the ten countries with the greatest proportion of their economic output exposed to natural hazards. In addition, they also demonstrate poor capability to recover from a significant event exposing investments in those countries to risk of supply chain and market disruptions. This could lead to sizable business interruption costs, in addition to material damage to essential infrastructure. Maplecroft’s research also showed that it could exacerbate other risks like societal unrest, food security, corruption and rule of law even leading to increased political risk.
“High exposure to natural hazards in these countries are compounded by a lack of resilience to combat the effects of a disaster should one emerge,” explains Maplecroft’s Head of Maps and Indices Helen Hodge. “Given the exposure of key financial and manufacturing centres, the occurrence of a major event would be very likely to have significant impacts on the total economic output of these countries, as well as foreign business.”

Praful Rao

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Upcoming events : Workshop on Climate Change in Darjeeling (17-18Dec2012)


The Federation of Societies for Environmental Protection (FOSEP), Darjeeling in collaboration with Friedrich Ebert Stiftung, New Delhi are organizing a  

"Workshop on Climate Change and Mountain Areas: Awareness, Adaptation and Sustainability"

AIM : This Workshop aims at providing a forum for exchange of information, knowledge, experiences and data related to climate change, good practices and policy initiatives across the Himalayan region. The objectives are to assess the level of awareness, adaptation and other experiences among various segments of the society and livelihood related activities. It will be held in a workshop format where three main presentation of 20 minutes each will be made in each session by the three Panelists and other will share their experiences and experiments as discussants.

Date : 17 & 18Dec2012
Venue : May Fair Hotel Resort, Darjeeling

I am glad to state the STH will be participating in the workshop.

Praful Rao

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

STH StormWatch : Tracking an elusive beast

It has been fascinating to watch the waxing and waning of the above storm over the past week (see previous blog entries to follow positions of the storm) and whereas storm track predictions may still be inexact what is possible today is that based on IR imagery, communities can keep a watch on major storm systems and be forewarned about impending weather related disasters well in advance.
All the above IR imagery has been obtained from here

Praful Rao

Sunday, November 18, 2012

STH StormWatch (18Nov2012 update) : The Depression becomes a Cyclone

The US Navy's Joint Typhoon Warning Center has upgraded the storm last evening and is now named as Tropical Cyclone 03 (see top).
IMD cyclone page has posted a forecast track image and shows the storm veering away from its earlier NW track to a South westerly path.

Praful Rao

Saturday, November 17, 2012

The Low Pressure is upgraded to a Depression


Bulletin Number : BOB 03/2012/01      

Dated: 17.11. 2012
Time of issue: 1400 hours IST

               Sub: Depression over east central Bay of Bengal

Latest satellite imagery and current Buoy observations indicate that a depression has formed over east central Bay of Bengal and lay centred at 1130 hrs IST of today, the 17thth November 2012 near latitude 15.50N and longitude 90.00E, about 1050 km east-northeast of Chennai (Tamilnadu), 750 km east-southeast of Visakhapatnam and 650 km southeast of Paradip. 

The system would intensify into a deep depression and move slowly northwestwards during next 24 hrs. It would move west/west-southwestwards towards south Andhra Pradesh and north Tamil Nadu coasts during subsequent 48 hrs.
Under the influence of this system, rainfall at most places with isolated heavy rainfall would occur over Andaman and Nicobar Islands during next 24 hrs.

No adverse weather is likely along and off east coast of India during next 48 hrs. However, Fishermen along north Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh coasts are advised to be cautious while venturing into sea during this period.
The next bulletin will be issued at 2030 hrs IST of today, the 17th November, 2012

You can read the next bulletin here
Praful Rao

STH Stormwatch : Update on storm in Bay of Bengal (17Nov2012)

On 13Nov2012 STH reported the formation of a low pressure in the Bay of Bengal; today the storm has intensified into a "well-marked low with an associated cyclonic circulation upto 3.6km".
The storm which is also being reported by the U.S Navy's Joint Typhoon Warning Center is likely to intensify further.


For anyone interested in knowing how severe weather systems are classified :-

1. Low or Low pressure area
2. Depression or tropical depression
3. Deep depression
4. Cyclonic storm
5. Severe cyclonic storm
6. Very severe cyclonic storm
7. Super cyclonic storm

Praful Rao

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

STH Stormwatch : Reporting a low pressure in the Bay of Bengal (20.30h IST / 13Nov2012)

Rather late in the year but yet another storm is brewing off the coast of Myanmar and we are keeping an eye on it....

Praful Rao

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Fact and Fiction about the Andhra Pradesh floods of 03-05Nov2012 (Excerpt from The Hindu - 07Nov2012)

Needed, a permanent solution
(Editorial on The Hindu is here)
As if the flooding in Andhra Pradesh following the severe cyclonic storm ‘Nilam’ was not bad enough, the State government and the Indian Meteorological Department are now arguing over what actually happened. Was the flood just the aftermath following the landfall of ‘Nilam’ or did a fresh low pressure system ravage coastal Andhra? The State administration has taken on the IMD for not warning it about the low pressure in the Bay of Bengal immediately following the storm but the met office says it did not have any information to share. The other point that has come up is that the department is better equipped to handle the Southwest monsoon and not the Northeast. But the damage has been done and at least eight districts of Andhra Pradesh — with Visakhapatnam and Srikakulam bearing the brunt — were left floating for days before the flood waters drained off. More than the warning or the rains, it is the lack of a proper drainage system along the east coast that led to such a tragedy, claiming over 20 lives and causing extensive damage to property and crops alike. And this damage can be prevented.

This is the sort of question the National Disaster Management Authority should start grappling with. NDMA teams visited the coastal States ahead of the monsoon and reviewed the preparedness of the administration in each of them. When the floods were in full flow, special teams of trained experts were there to rescue people and provide relief. The entire coast along the Bay, from Tamil Nadu to Odisha, and even parts of West Bengal, are vulnerable to storms and cyclones every year. The super cyclone that hit Odisha in 1999 and the 1977 floods that played havoc in Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh ought to have taught enough lessons to the authorities. Unfortunately, neither the Centre nor the States seem to have responded in the way they should have. Instead of spending thousands of crores every year on compensation and flood relief, the Centre and the coastal States would do well to invest in permanent solutions, which include a proper drainage system for the flood waters to empty into the sea. All natural avenues for drainage have been blocked over the decades and must be reactivated. The Monsoon Mission that the Centre cleared about six months ago must be implemented at least before the 2013 season. The blame game and haggling over compensation does not help anybody. The NDMA has already laid down the basic framework that must now be implemented.

Comments by Praful Rao
Cyclone Nilam which was being tracked by STH, made landfall at Mahabalipuram (Tamil Nadu) at around 1630h IST on 31Oct2012. Thereafter, as per the IR imagery, the storm crossed inland, curved towards the north east, reformed and gained strength over the Bay of Bengal and was very active from the the 03Nov-05Nov2012 along the coast of Andhra Pradesh.
Placed below are 3 IR images of 04Nov2012, showing intense clouding off the coast of Andhra Pradesh.
It is surprising that the Govt of AP denies knowledge of the movement of the storm, when everything was so clearly visible to anyone armed with just a laptop and internet.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

STH Stormwatch : The Gathering Storm II (Cyclone Nilam)

  • What is plainly evident is that with broadband internet and through various websites one can observe and track a major weather event and as such be warned, well in advance.
  • What is to be borne in mind is that IR images alone will not give an accurate or complete picture of the storm.

    Praful Rao

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

STH stormwatch : The newborn gets a name - "Cyclone NILAM"

At a time when the world news is being dominated by the Superstorm SANDY making landfall on the eastern seaboard of the USA, a storm which STH first reported on 26Oct2012 has now intensified to a full blown cyclone and has been given a name today (Viz Cyclone NILAM).
NILAM therefore, is the first cyclone in the Bay of Bengal in 2012.
You can read more about naming of Cyclones (Hurricanes or Typhoons) here

Praful Rao

Monday, October 29, 2012

STH storm watch (29Oct2012) : The birth of a cyclone

Even as a "Sandy" a superstorm threatens the eastern coast of the USA, a low pressure which brewed up off the coast of Myanmar (which STH was tracking) on 26Oct2012 gradually intensified as it moved in a southwesterly track and now is a deep depression off the coast of Tamil Nadu. IMetD has issued a cyclone warning for Tamil Nadu.
Placed above is map showing the tracks of cyclones and depressions (2009-2011) in the Bay of Bengal (source is here)

Praful Rao

Friday, October 26, 2012

STH Stormwatch (26Oct2012) : LOPAR in the Bay of Bengal

Though the SW Monsoons have withdrawn from the Darjeeling-Sikkim Himalaya, the cyclone season in the Bay of Bengal lasts till at least Nov-Dec.
STH Stormwatch is reporting the formation of another low pressure area (LOPAR) in the Bay.
For those interested, you can obtain half hourly updates of the IR images from the IMetD website here

Praful Rao

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

After a final sting, the SW monsoons of 2012 withdraw from the Darjeeling-Sikkim Himalayas

Death toll due to Landslides in 2012

Uttarkhand - 32 (official - unofficial figures in the media peg this at 45)
Sikkim        - 34 ( 24 died on 22Sep2012)
Deaths also occurred in the North Eastern states of India for which figures are awaited.

Praful Rao

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

STH storm watch : Another LOPAR in the northern Bay of Bengal

After a relatively quiescent period through the monsoons, in Oct we are seeing a cauldron of activity in the Bay of Bengal with yet another low pressure area (LOPAR) brewing, this time off the coast of Myanmar and shifting slowly towards Bangladesh and W Bengal.
All this is not too good news for us living in the Darjeeling / Sikkim Himalaya and brings back memories of the 1968 disaster which also occurred in early October of that year.

Comment by Praful Rao on 12Oct2012

As a part of STH storm watch we monitor the activity in the Bay of Bengal continuously during the monsoons and I kept a close track of this low as it formed and then gradually shifted on a north-westerly track towards Bangladesh and southern W Bengal.
Since the storm was never categorized as anything more than a "well marked low pressure" very little warning about it was given both in W Bengal and Bangladesh as such I was shocked to read about the devastation, death and havoc it caused in Bangladesh. You can read about it here
But perhaps the silver lining in all this is that even an ordinary person like me can make use of the tools made available by technology today to effectively monitor adverse weather fairly accurately and obtain advance information and warning about it .

Praful Rao

Monday, October 8, 2012

STH storm watch: The LOPAR persists

Almost 2 days after STH first observed and reported (by telephone and SMS to certain key Disaster Management organizations) the development of a low in the north  Bay of Bengal , the LOPAR (low pressure area)  still ominously persists.

Praful Rao

Saturday, October 6, 2012

STH Storm Watch : First Low Pressure Area of monsoon 2012 forms in the Bay of Bengal

Excerpt from IMetD (Kolkata) website

Main synoptic features based on 0830 hrs IST Observations dt.06.10.2012
Under the influence of Upper-air Trough over North Bay of Bengal, a low pressure area has formed over North Bay of Bengal adjoining areas. Associated cyclonic circulation extends upto 2.1 km a.s.l.

Comment by Praful Rao
The activity in the Bay of Bengal has been unusually quiet during the monsoons of 2012 with no lows, depressions or cyclones forming.
STH monitors the activity in the Bay on the internet and reports all adverse weather activity with a view to provide early warning.
On 06Oct2012, I MetD is reporting formation of the first low pressure area of the season in the Bay of Bengal.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Rainfall stats, Darjeeling dist Sep2012

Sep 2012 was a month of unusual rainfall activity with the first and last two weeks of the month being totally deficient in rain and almost 80% of the monthly rainfall ( 410mm) crashing down between 11Sep and 17Sep2012.
This rainfall caused landslides all over the district but there were no fatalities.
Fatalities occurred in North Sikkim however, when heavy rainfall there persisted well into the third week of Sep2012.

Praful Rao

Monday, September 24, 2012

From Sikkim today : 24Sep2012

Photo credits : Mr Wangchuk Dorjee
                    : Mr Chewang Lepcha

Praful Rao

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Fatal landslide in N Sikkim : 24 dead on 22Sep2012

Comments by Praful Rao
We have been witnessing an extraordinary rainfall pattern over the last few weeks in this region.
In Kalimpong, we were terribly deficient in rain  from 01-09Sep2012 but between 10-17Sep2012 due to the monsoon trough shifting close to us and an upper air cyclonic circulation over Jharkhand, we received around 84% (343mm) of our monthly rainfall for Sep (410mm) in just 7 days and by 20Sep we crossed out monthly average.
What is worrisome is that this intense rainfall comes at the end of the monsoon season when the earth is totally saturated with water -  creating an ideal recipe for landslides.
Sikkim receives much more rain than Kalimpong and I do know that this month they have gone well past the monthly average there.
Placed above is the IR image of 22Sep2012  of 1600hrs (ie of yesterday when the landslide/ flashflood occurred) which shows dense clouding over Sikkim.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

National Conference on Disaster Management 17-18Sep2012, Gangtok Sikkim

I had the privilege of attending  Day-II (18Sep2012) of the two day National Conference on Disaster Management at Chintan Bhavan, Gangtok. The conference was organized by Sikkim State Disaster Management Authority to mark the first anniversary of the 18Sep2011 Sikkim earthquake and as such was focused more or less totally on earthquakes.

I was, however allowed to talk on landslides and extreme weather events like the recent Sept rains which dumped 84% of the monthly rainfall in just one week.
The conference had delegates and speakers from Bihar, Odissa, Manipur and representatives from UNDP, UNICEF, IITs, NDMA, NDRF, officers of the army, BRO, para military or and many more organizations.
The keynote address on Day-1 was given by Shri KM Singh, Member NDMA and on Day-II by Shri Karma Gyatso (IAS), Chief Secretary, Sikkim.
Some of the outcomes of Day-II were :-
  1. 18Sep would be observed as “Disaster Reduction Day” in the state of Sikkim from now on and one year (ie Sep2012-Sep2013) would be observed as “Preparedness Year”.
  2. Special importance would be given to school safety and disaster management studies would be introduced into school curriculum without delay.
  3. Similarly safety of hospitals and other life line structures would be given paramount importance.
  4. The socio-economic aspects of the 18Sep2011 earthquake would also be studied.

    Praful Rao