Disruption of Mid Hill Highway affects hill districts of GandakiThe highway has been blocked by at least 20 major landslides, cutting off supply lines.
Agandhar Tiwari, Prakash Baral & Ghanshyam Khadka
Vehicular movement along the Mid Hill Highway, which is considered a major lifeline of the Dhaulagiri region, has been obstructed for the past week.
At least 20 massive landslides have occurred along a road stretch of 8.5 kilometres between Khareha in Kushma Municipality Ward No. 7 to Bhyaplekhola of Bajung in Modi Rural Municipality Ward No. 5 in Parbat district.
Eleven people lost their lives in separate landslides triggered by continuous rainfall in several places of Parbat on Friday. Various parts of the Mid Hill Highway were also blocked by multiple landslides.
A dozen excavators and tippers have been mobilised to clear landslide debris from the road section. But traffic had not resumed even by Wednesday evening, according to the Mid Hill Highway Project Office.
Residents of Parbat, Baglung, Myagdi and Mustang districts have been cut off from the rest of the country after the obstruction in the road section. Critically ill patients and those in need of immediate medical attention have especially been hit hard by the road obstruction.
Gaumati Acharya, a resident of Kushma in Parbat, said her sick grandson had to be airlifted to Pokhara since vehicular movement along the road has yet to resume.
But not all patients and their families can afford the high cost of chartering a helicopter to other cities. Those who can’t afford to charter a helicopter are making risky journeys through landslide-ridden rural roads.
“Residents are using stretchers to carry patients to hospitals in cities,” said Geeta Adhikari, a resident of Kushma Ward No. 9. “We have to change seven vehicles to go to Pokhara from Parbat due to road blockages along the way. We had to carry our patients through some parts of the highway.”
Patients in Baglung are also facing similar difficulties in reaching hospitals in Pokhara and Kathmandu because of the disruption in the highway.
Krishna Bahadur Khatri, a resident of Galkot Municipality Ward No. 6 in Baglung, had to be taken to Pokhara from Baglung on Wednesday in a helicopter after he experienced difficulty in breathing. His family spent Rs 200,000 on the fare. A jeep from Baglung to Pokhara normally charges Rs 10,000 one way.
Another 73-year-old Nanda Bahadur Gharti, a resident of Ward No. 4 in Dhorpatan Municipality, had to spend Rs 250,000 to charter a helicopter to Pokhara for treatment. According to Gharti, his family took a loan to hire the helicopter.
According to Krishna Bahadur Palli Magar, chief at the District Police Office in Baglung, 20 patients from Baglung and Myagdi districts have been airlifted to Pokhara for treatment since Friday.
The disruption in the road network has also led to a shortage of daily essentials, including vegetables, fruits, petroleum products and LP gas, among others, in the hill districts of Gandaki.
Harka KC, an employee at Parbat Oil Store, said the pump has been facing a petrol shortage for the last four days.
“There’s a queue of vehicles lined outside the pump but petrol tanks haven’t entered Parbat since the road blockage,” KC said.
Shankar Tiwari, a resident of Phalebas Municipality in Parbat, says petrol pumps are charging Rs 250 for a litre of petrol that costs Rs 130.
“We have been paying twice the price because pumps have run out of petrol,” he said.
Baglung-based traders have been forced to supply essential goods through Palpa after the highway disruption.
“The road through Palpa is around 300 kilometres longer than the usual route obstructed by the floods and landslides. This has increased the price of essential commodities,” said Khagendra Paudel, a local trader of Baglung Bazaar.
According to Juna Sharma of Baglung Bazaar, consumers like her have no other alternative but to buy essentials and groceries at a hiked-up price.
“Authorities should clear the blocked highway at the earliest,” said Sharma. “The Kaligandaki Corridor and Baglung-Kushmisera road have been disrupted for the past one and a half months, leading to a spike in the price of all goods and commodities.”
“Petrol pumps are empty, as supply has been disrupted. Only fuel kept for emergency purposes is available in the district now,” said Ram Prasad Sharma, a petrol station owner.
Chief District Office of Baglung Shiva Kumar Karki said efforts are underway to find alternatives to supply fuel at the earliest.
The Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Myagdi also reports a shortage of fruits, vegetables and fuel among other essential commodities in the district due to the disruption of the Mid-Hill Highway.
In the markets of Myagdi, the price of fruits and vegetables has skyrocketed in the past few days due to shortages. The prices of bananas and apples have doubled compared to last week.
Not a single vegetable truck has entered Beni, the district headquarters of Myagdi, from Pokhara, Chitwan, Dhading and Tanahun districts since the disruption in the road network.
“The greengrocers don’t have any stock left now. They only have some local products which are not enough for the population. The demand for groceries and vegetables has increased since this is also a festive season but there is not much left to sell,” said Debendra Subedi, a fruit and vegetable wholesaler in Beni.
The disruption of the Mid Hill Highway has also caused shortages of construction materials like iron rods, cement and bricks among others. This has affected several construction projects in the districts.
Meanwhile, Ujjwal Sharma, information officer of the Mid Hill Highway Project, said his office is making efforts to resume vehicular movement along the highway.
“It is a difficult task to clear the landslide debris at Bhayplekhola,” said Sharma. “Large boulders have blocked the road in Bhayplekhola. We have to break those boulders and clear the debris. Only then can transportation be resumed.”
According to him, works to clear the debris were halted as the Bhayplekhola area witnessed heavy rainfall throughout the day on Wednesday.
“However, we are making efforts to open the road for a one way traffic from Thursday,” said Sharma.