Wednesday, March 29, 2023

SaveTheHills survey of landslides near Dikchu (East Sikkim) on 27Mar2023



Following media reports on a major landslide occurrence at Sokpay, near DIKCHU on 26Mar2023, we made a quick visit to the region the next day. Our report:

Rainfall data for the month of MARCH of Mangan (District HQ of North Sikkim)
2021 - 249.9mm
2022 - 166.5mm
2023 - 272mm (upto 28Mar2023)
Dikchu is situated approx 2.5km (approx 21km by road) south of Mangan.

Location and Co-ordinates of the base (toe) of landslide
The landslide at Sokpay (Rakdong-Tintek block) is huge with the crown located at least 1500' above the toe. We could only survey the base (toe) of the landslide which is located very close to DIKCHU town because the landslide has cut off access to the higher reaches where several affected homesteads are located.
Co-ordinates and elevation: N27° 23.822' E88° 31.142'
Elevation: 2543ft (775m)

Brief history and date and time of occurrence
As per locals, the landslide at Sokpay took place between 3-4am on 26Mar2023.
However, they trace back the instability to 2016 when there was a landslide in the area and thereafter, smaller landslides taking place at regular (even yearly) intervals; with 'surveys' being conducted and talks of relocation also taking place but nothing being implemented.

Probable cause
This seems to be a mystery since there has been very little rainfall in this region since Oct2022. In Mar2023, Mangan and Gangtok region did receive 'excess' rainfall (see below)
But this amount and intensity of rainfall, in our experience does not trigger such a large landslide. Local people are quick to point out that it is NHPC's Stage V Dam on the Teesta river located at Dikchu as a cause and also the large power towers (pylons) at the top (crown) of the landslide as the probable trigger.
However, there is no study done to prove this.
Government officials are equally fast in saying the entire investigation is being done by the Department of Mines and Geology, Govt of Sikkim and that their report on the cause and remedial measures to be taken is awaited. They also point out that this area is landslide prone with many sinking zones - which even a cursory look at the region will prove as correct.
We also found no other evidence of large scale and recent human interference such as road/tunnel construction which could have triggered the landslide. Nor was there any erosion by a jhora or river in the close vicinity which could have caused erosion and triggered the  landslide which started from the hilltop.

Casualties and damage
There were no human lives lost even though the farmers lost cattle and pigs in the slide. 4 homes were totally damaged and 20 families have been shifted to temporary relief shelters by the government. Unlike the landslide in Pathing, both the media and government authorities seem to have mobilized immediately. The Government has implemented relief measures and also taken the help of the Power Companies to provide temporary rehabilitation to the affected families.
Road communications from DIKCHU to GANGTOK has snapped and the main road from DIKCHU to MANGAN may also be affected in case the landslide is reactivated during the oncoming monsoons.




We discovered this landslide at Tumin Shelay, in the same area almost by accident. This huge landslide is more than a year old and seems to have been triggered by rain in an agricultural area. The farmers have lost almost 3 acres of paddy field there and around 3-5 families have been compelled to relocate. A local person guided us to the landslide which has affected the lives of the farming community in more ways than one - tourism which was coming up around a beautiful waterfall in the vicinity has died a premature death.
Like many landslides which occur in remote areas, this one never hit the headlines - in fact, I had never even heard about it, until we reached the place searching for the recent DIKCHU slide.

Location and Co-ordinates of landslide
Located at Tumin Shelay village.
Co- ordinates near the crown: N27° 19.492' E88° 30.134'
Elevation: 4082ft (1244m)

We will be uploading a short documentary, on our visit to these landslide sites. The documentary will include interviews, images and drone footages of the landslides.

Praful Rao
Kalimpong district
Darjeeling-Sikkim Himalaya

Sunday, March 5, 2023

Silences and biases in media and academic reporting of Landslide Disasters

I recently came across a study done primarily on major US media networks titled 'How many deaths does it take for a disaster to receive news coverage' (Source: Eisensee and Stromberg (2007)). The two authors found out that for every person killed by a volcano 882 people have to die of landslides to receive the same coverage in US televised news. This creates dangerous biases and affects the attention given to landslides as a disaster. Disasters like landslides are less 'spectacular', with fewer dramatic stories and therefore not documented. Though the data is for the US media networks there are many examples of how landslides have been ignored in our region as well. To refer to a recent instance, we documented how the landslide in Pathing was overlooked for over 3 months which caused severe distress to the lives and livelihood of the people there. You can view the videos here.

Location is also a bias which is talked about in this article, where developed nations like Europe and America get way more coverage than the rest. 

I performed a simple search on Google, taking The Times Of India as a case study, with the keywords 'Landslides in The Pune Times of India' vs Uttarakhand, Darjeeling and Mizoram. The results clearly show the discrimination in media reports, where importance has been given to developed regions yet again.

In the image above I have placed these results on a landslide hazard zonation map of India given by BMTPC, Government of India to show how severe to high risk zones in the North East are reported vs the high, moderate to low developed areas, which are reported almost triple times more.

The results in descending order are:
Uttarakhand: 1573 news articles
Pune: 755 news articles
Darjeeling: 198 news articles
Mizoram: 169 news articles

Not only is it hidden in media but also in the academic front. Given below are statistics of the biased distribution of landslide studies done across the Himalayan region (Abhirup 2020), where the Western Himalayas has been given a larger chunk of the academic pie than the North East Himalayas. The author attributes this bias to the a higher population density and a higher level of landslide risk there. 

We see that there are global, national and regional biases when it comes to disasters in general. Landslides are unique because we have biases locally as well. This bias comes with what is seen easily, landslides on the roads. Most of the studies done here are on landslides on NH10 or NH55. It is easily accessible, causes a lot of problems for a larger mass and hampers development. What is ignored then are the smaller landslides. A famous quote by our president is that 'Landslides nibble'. They nibble their way into farmlands, (we have a detailed report on the Nimbong landslide problem where acres of farmland has just disappeared due to landslides) homes, creating sinking or unstable zones where people have no other option but to relocate.

According to GSI, 12.6% of India's landmass is prone to landslide hazard. Landslides are unique in nature as they are the only disasters that take away a person's land. Our region is extremely vulnerable to these biases because we are not only the victims of disaster discrimination but also the victims of spatial discrimination. These biases must be accounted for in the Landslide Risk Zonation Maps to get an accurate view.

We face a silent disaster therefore are unheard; its impact slow though debilitating therefore ignored; and distant therefore unseen. 

Shreya Gurung,
Kalimpong district
Darjeeling- Sikkim Himalayas

Sunday, February 26, 2023

ChatGPT's essay on 'Hazards in the Himalayas'

Having heard so much about AI and ChatGPT, I decided to try it out and asked it to write a 1000word essay on 'Hazards in the Himalayas'.
Of course, I gave it many key words to keep it focused on the topic. I think it has done a marvelous job even though raw data is missing. Here it is:

"The Himalayan mountain range, stretching across several countries, is one of the most majestic and awe-inspiring natural wonders of the world. However, this magnificent landscape is also incredibly fragile and vulnerable to a wide range of hazards that pose significant risks to human life and livelihoods. From tectonic movements and seismic risks to heavy rainfall, extreme weather, and climate change, the Himalayas face a variety of hazards that require careful management and mitigation.
One of the most significant hazards facing the Himalayas is the risk of seismic activity. The region sits on a major fault line, making it highly vulnerable to earthquakes and other tectonic movements. The seismic risk in the Himalayas is further amplified by the fact that the mountains themselves are relatively new, having formed only in the last 50 million years or so. This means that the rocks and other geological features in the region are still relatively unstable and prone to shifting and moving over time.
The heavy rainfall and extreme weather conditions that are common in the Himalayas are also a significant hazard for those living in the region. In particular, cloud bursts, which can dump huge amounts of water in a short period of time, can lead to devastating flooding and landslides. These events are becoming increasingly common as a result of climate change, which is causing more extreme weather patterns in the region.
Human interference in the form of unplanned constructions, dams, and road construction is also a major hazard for the Himalayas. These activities can disrupt natural drainage patterns, increase the risk of landslides, and alter the fragile ecosystem of the region. In particular, the Uttarakhand disaster of 2013, which was triggered by unplanned construction and deforestation, highlighted the risks posed by such activities in the region.
Rapid population growth in the region is also creating new hazards for the Himalayas. As more and more people move into the region, there is increasing pressure on natural resources, leading to conflicts over water, food, and other basic needs. This is particularly true in areas where water sources are already scarce, leading to drying springs and water insecurity.
The Himalayas are also home to a rich diversity of wildlife, including endangered species such as the snow leopard and the Himalayan black bear. However, human-wildlife conflict is becoming increasingly common in the region as a result of habitat loss and other pressures. This conflict can lead to serious risks for both humans and animals, as well as damage to crops and other livelihoods.
Despite the many hazards facing the Himalayas, there are steps that can be taken to mitigate these risks and ensure the long-term sustainability of the region. For example, improved land-use planning and management can help to reduce the risks of landslides and other natural disasters. Similarly, efforts to conserve natural resources and protect wildlife habitats can help to reduce conflicts and promote greater ecological stability.
At the same time, it is important to recognize that the challenges facing the Himalayas are complex and multifaceted. Addressing these challenges will require a comprehensive approach that takes into account the diverse needs and perspectives of the region's many stakeholders. This means engaging with local communities, governments, NGOs, and other actors to develop strategies and solutions that are both effective and sustainable.
In conclusion, the hazards facing the Himalayas are numerous and significant, but they are not insurmountable. By working together to address these challenges, we can help to ensure the long-term sustainability of this remarkable natural wonder. Whether through improved land-use planning, wildlife conservation, or other measures, it is up to all of us to take action to protect the Himalayas and the people and animals who call it home.

Praful Rao,
Kalimpong district
Darjeeling- Sikkim Himalayas

Tuesday, February 14, 2023

STH activities in Jan2023: Awareness programs with students from the USA on 03 & 21Jan2023

One of the main roles of STH is to raise awareness about the landslide and environmental issues of this region and we do this thru the year, and year after year at various levels, starting with the grassroots in remote villages to talking at the national level.

We did this again this year with students from Framingham State University and then Colby College on the 03 & 21Jan2023 at Anu and Rajiv's place in Deolo, Kalimpong.

Praful Rao
Kalimpong district
Darjeeling - Sikkim Himalaya

Sunday, February 12, 2023

Brainstorming discussion on “Landslides and Human Environment: A New Approach to the Study of Fault related Hazards in Himalayan Towns” : 11Feb2023

 The program

I am glad to say that the MOES PAMC, Geosciences online workshop was phenomenal  and had a huge collection of scientific minds and expertise from many organizations and spheres (see above) talking about landslides and providing early warning on this hazard.
I had the honour of giving a brief run up on the 'Landslide situation in the vicinity of Kalimpong town' after which the 5 hr brainstorming session began. The entire program was moderated by Prof Malay Mukul of IIT Mumbai (Dept of Earth Sciences).

The projects hopes to look at Himalayan towns in the long term especially along fault zones and use the latest sciences towards creating a safer environment as regards landslides in the mountains.
My deep thanks to Prof Malay Mukul for taking this initiative and especially for choosing Kalimpong as place of study.

Praful Rao
Kalimpong district
Darjeeling-Sikkim Himalaya



Friday, February 3, 2023

STH Landslide documentaries being featured in Film Festival on 'Exploring Risk', at Durham University (U.K) -16/17Feb2023

We just received news that the Institute of Hazard, Risk, and Resilience at Durham University (UK) is hosting 'The Exploring Risk 2023 Film Festival' on the 16/17Feb2023 and that they would like to feature our 2 documentaries on the Pathing Landslides during the film festival.

I am extremely proud that they have chosen to do so and am planning to make another documentary during the monsoons of 2023 on the 'Impact of Landslide Disasters on Rural Communities' (subject to fund availability). 

Rural communities are the forgotten lot in landslide disasters, with all the focus and media attention going to landslides on communication lines such as roads and highways and to those in urban centers. In such a scenario, hardly anyone pays heed to smaller landslides which nibble away unnoticed in rural areas, destroying livelihoods and farmlands.

Update as on 15Feb2023

Link for registering for the live streamed films on16Feb2023 at 11.30pm (IST)

Please register with the link below

Praful Rao
Kalimpong district
Darjeeling-Sikkim Himalaya

Friday, January 13, 2023

Why we should tread softly in the Himalayas...Pakyong, Sikkim, Nov2017

While the sinking of Joshimath, in large part due to human activities has caught the attention of the nation, I was witness to a similar event in another Himalayan state,ie Sikkim caused by anthropogenic activity which has now been largely forgotten.

Pakyong airport, 30 km from Gangtok at an elevation 4590ft (1399m)was inaugurated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on 24Sept 2018. It was constructed by the Airport Authority of India (AAI) at an estimated cost of Rs 605 crore and was touted be an "engineering marvel" for its soil reinforcement and slope stabilization techniques keeping in view the altitude it was built at. 

After inauguration, only Spicejet operated a Bombardier Q -400 on the Kolkata -Pakyong route and under Visual Flight Rules since there no navigational aids or radar at the airport which will permit IFR flight.

Building the airport caused severe distress to the slopes around the airport and the landslide problem in the area has been adequately documented by Dr Dave Petley in his blog here.

I visited Pakyong on 05Nov2017 and met some local contacts who said almost 164 buildings/homes large and small, located below and around the runway had been damaged due to the sinking caused by the airport construction.  

I have placed images of buildings being dismantled and other images of Pakyong airport below:


I took these photos in Nov2017 and after that I have not visited Pakyong. 

What I know from media reports is that adequate compensation has been doled out to all the affected people there so there is silence from that end.
What I am not sure is about the health of the mountain because I believe the runway is under repair/ extension.

No flights have operated to/from Pakyong for some time now, for reasons unknown to me.

Praful Rao
Kalimpong district
Darjeeling-Sikkim HImalaya