Dangerous developmentAs long as our development activities endanger lives, we cannot call it progress
For a largely agrarian economy like Nepal, monsoon is a lifeline. Nevertheless, for many Nepalis, monsoon is also a source of mayhem, causing floods and landslides. Heavy and continuous rainfall in the last couple of days has caused multiple landslides to break out in the hilly region. Amid this, the death of eight children earlier this week after a landslide buried two homes in Thanti Bazar, Jajarkot while they were doing their “homework” has been particularly devastating.
Naturally, the hilly regions of Nepal are extremely vulnerable to landslides. But over the years, uncontrolled deforestation, hill cutting for construction, and indiscriminate establishment of settlements in foothills have made these areas much more prone to rain-triggered landslides. What’s even more saddening is there seems to be no end in sight to such activities.
According to the Ministry of Home Affairs, 552 people have lost their lives in the last seven years due to landslides. In the last three months alone, landslides have claimed at least 55 lives. Granted, natural disasters occur unexpectedly. Moreover, Nepal is among the 20 most disaster prone countries in the world, but the fact that natural calamities have been occurring frequently begs the question: do human activities have any influence in their increased occurrence?
Just a few decades ago, Nepalis living in rural regions felt empowered when they were given the responsibility to build their villages and communities. The narrative of development started with building roads. The government, along with the local people, started bulldozing roads through the hills, only increasing the risks of landslides in the settlements during the monsoon.
While road construction is much needed in rural Nepal, most of the construction work is being done without properly considering the geographical sensitivity of the areas. It is haphazard and unscientific to say the least. What’s more, in 2013, the District Development Committee (DDC) had restricted the use of bulldozers during road construction. The committee said that bulldozers could only be used where human force alone could not complete the work. Even in those situations, according to the DDC’s rules, bulldozers can be used only after obtaining necessary recommendation from technical experts.
The Environment Protection Act further mandates conducting an environment impact assessment before launching any road construction projects. But in many cases, they are violated as the concerned authorities have little regard for rules and regulations. This attitude stems from a sheer lack of farsightedness and blatant disregard for human lives, especially by the local authorities.
Even if we put an end to the haphazard use of heavy equipment for road construction, the vulnerability to such disasters could be reduced. Development and human security go hand in hand. As long as our development activities endanger lives, we cannot call it progress.