90 settlements in Salyan at risk of landslides, forest department saysRisk aggravated by haphazard road construction, claims Disaster Management Committee chief.
Kul Bahadur Oli is haunted by the memories of July 18, 2020. At around 3 in the morning that day, when everyone was asleep, a thunderous noise woke him up.
“It was a landslide. It sounded like the ground was grumbling. I do not know what would have happened if we had not heard the noise and ran outside,” said the 46-year-old from Bafalkhola in Bagchaur Municipality-12. “I saw the landslide bury my neighbour’s house. After that incident, we don’t sleep well at night during the rainy season.”
Landslides triggered by heavy rainfall swept away two houses in Bafukhola, Salyan in the monsoon of 2020. The disaster displaced around 72 families and put more than five dozen houses at high risk. The residents of the settlement in Bagchaur Municipality-12 took refuge at a local school for a week. Besides initial relief materials, the displaced families did not receive much support from the local authorities.
Most of the families have returned to their homes since then but they continue to live in fear of landslides every monsoon.
In Chami of Chatreswari Rural Municipality-1, landslides triggered by incessant rainfall displaced around two dozen families on July 18, 2020. The displaced families sought refuge with their relatives for a while but have now returned to their village, which is still at risk of landslides. Other than installing wire fences in the affected area, the concerned bodies and the municipality have not done much to mitigate the risk of landslides.
In Salyan, 90 settlements are at high risk of landslides this year, according to the Department of Forests and Soil Conservation. More than 2,000 families in the district have been affected by landslides in the last decade.
Several settlements of Baghchaur Municipality-12, Bangad Kupinde Municipality, Chatreswari Rural Municipality, Kapurkot Rural Municipality and Dharma Rural Municipality in the district are at risk of landslides this monsoon.
Landslides have killed more than two dozen people in the last 10 years and more than three dozen people have left their settlements and relocated to other places due to the risk, according to the data of the District Administration Office, Salyan.
Despite the high risk of landslides, the concerned bodies have yet to implement disaster mitigation and control policies under the Disaster Management Committee.
Local residents say several settlements in Salyan have been exposed to landslides because of haphazard road construction initiated by the local units in rural areas.
According to Khim Bahadur KC of Chatreswari Rural Municipality-1, where around two dozen families were displaced in 2018, the monsoon season brings disaster to the area.
“We are forced to leave our home and run for shelter to save ourselves from landslides,” he said. “In the past few years, landslides have been occurring in many places because the landmass has become fragile due to unregulated infrastructural development projects initiated by the local unit.”
Former ward chairperson of Baghchaur Municipality-12 Deepak Oli agrees with KC and says road construction works without conducting proper environmental studies has been putting settlements at risk of disasters like landslides.
Rupak Budha, a resident of Kapurkot Rural Municipality, said that the Kapurkot market area is at high risk of landslides and more than 100 families are affected but the concerned bodies have yet to take their plight into consideration.
“The concerned bodies have spent millions building concrete walls and wire fencing in landslide-prone areas but those are only temporary measures and not at all effective in the face of major landslides,” said Budha. “Landslides have destroyed dozens of houses in the past few years. Disaster victims have been living in areas at risk of landslides because there is nowhere else to go and the local authorities have not taken any initiatives to resettle them in safer locations.”
Dipesh KC, in-charge of the Department of Forests and Soil Conservation in Surkhet, said that landslides occurred in 90 places of Salyan last monsoon. But the office lacks technical support to adopt disaster mitigation measures at the district level, he says.
“It has become difficult to carry out landslide control work as the government has removed the soil conservation office from every district and limited it to the provinces,” he said.
“The office spends Rs 15 million on landslide control measures in Salyan every year but the budget falls short,” said Dipesh. “So we have to stick to traditional methods such as installing wire fences, planting trees and building concrete walls.”
Chief District Officer of the District Administration Office, Salyan, Bipin Acharya, who is also the chairperson of the Disaster Management Committee, says many settlements are at risk because of local units digging roads using excavators without conducting a proper study.
According to Acharya, the municipalities have not paid much attention to flood, landslide and disaster mitigation while carrying out road construction works. Two people were killed, one badly injured, 73 houses damaged and 148 houses were at risk due to floods and landslides in Salyan last year.
Dan Bahadur Khatri, chairman of Kalimati Municipality, one of the worst-hit local units in the district, said that the municipality does not have enough budget to spend on disaster management and relies on the federal government to intervene in case of major disasters.