Amid risks of landslides, local units in Gandaki relocate settlementsLocals say while it’s better to move to a safer space than live in the risky villages, relocating won’t be sustainable unless there’s concrete effort from the local units.
Many villages in Gandaki Province are at high risk of landslides and floods with the onset of the rainy season. To counter the looming threat, many local units in the province have come up with various measures, with some opting to move whole settlements to safer spots.
This week, Waling Municipality of Syangja moved 37 households in Dhawakhola, a predominantly Dalit settlement, to a nearby school.
Waling Mayor Dilip Pratap Khand said that the families were moved, as their houses were at high risk of landslides.
“Incessant rains for days have weakened the structure of the hill on which the settlement is nestled,” Khand said. “The village also lies on a highly landslide-prone area and has seen several landslides over recent years.”
The rural settlement was affected by the 2015 earthquakes as well, which, according to Khand, might have further increased the risk of landslides.
Khand added that while the current move is temporary, the municipality is looking for a safe spot to construct an integrated model settlement for the affected villagers.
Locals, however, said that while it’s better to move to a safer space than live in the landslide-prone village, the relocation won’t be sustainable.
“We couldn’t sleep at night for fear of landslides,” Bishnumaya Pariyar, a local, said. “We will be safer for the time being at the school but we expect to move to a safer spot permanently.”
The municipality is also planning to move the families of Kusunde, also a high-risk settlement, to schools and public buildings soon, Khand said.
In Myagdi’s Arman Village of 36 households, locals have taken turns to watch out for possible landslides. The village has seen small landslides over the past few weeks, raising fears among them of a big one.
Three villagers are assigned to monitor the situation per day. The trio who will stay at a safe vantage point atop the settlement looking for possible landslides and will blow whistles and beat drums once landslides begin to occur.
“Rains have caused small rocks to roll down on a daily basis but our biggest fear is the large rock which is currently nestled at a precarious position,” said Ratna Bahadur BK, a local. “This has robbed us of our sleep.”
Arman Village, which lies at Mangala Rural Municipality-5, began to see landslides after a road that was constructed atop it was left incomplete owing to the rocky terrain.
“A road is essential for the remote village, so it was built on a mutual agreement among the villagers,” said Nagendra Sapkota, a technician involved with the road project. “The risk is that the construction might have weakened the structure of the hill, as small rocks keep rolling down.”
Like Waling, the district administration is mulling over the plan to move the whole settlement to a safer space.
“We have already found a safe spot. The relocation process will start once we receive essential material from the provincial and federal governments,” Gyannath Dhakal, chief district officer of Myagdi, said. “This is the result of hasty road construction that was done without any plan or research.” Dhakal pointed out that Arman was already at risk of landslide before the road project, and the construction work has only exacerbated the problem. A landslide in 2001 had killed 16 people in the village.
Haphazard construction of roads has exposed several other settlements across the province to the risk of landslides.
In Birtakatuwa of Parbat, for instance, a road trail was constructed 12 years ago. The locals were happy to get access to roads. But that excitement has over the years turned into fear, as the area began to see landslides triggered by the construction.
A big landslide that occurred just beside the settlement in mid-July spared lives but has troubled the villagers. “The landslide is continuous,” Ganesh Chhetri, a local of Birtakatuwa, said. “We have asked the district authorities for help but it’s not forthcoming.”
Trilochan Subedi, a local school teacher, said that two big landslides have occurred this year but the concerned authorities have not taken any preventive measures to protect the settlements.
“The magnitude of the landslides is increasing,” he said. “It is sure to cause a big disaster.”
Sujan BK, ward chair of Kushma Municipality-10, said that the landslides this year were unexpected. “Nobody would have thought that a landslide this big would occur,” he said. “As of now, it’s impossible to control possible landslides but we will see what we can do to mitigate the risk in the coming days.”(Pratikshya Kafle in Syangja, Ghanashyam Khadka in Myagdi and Lal Prasad Sharma in Parbat contributed reporting.)