Threat of landslides looms large in TaplejungUnsustainable development works being carried out in hill districts spell disaster for those living in these areas
Four years ago, at least 29 people in Liwang and Khokling of Mikwakhola in Meringden Rural Municipality, Taplejung, lost their lives and 20 others went missing in landslides.
Even today, people living in Thinglabu, Lingtep, Khamlung and Santhakra have not forgotten the disaster that occurred on June 10, 2015. The whereabouts of the missing people in the disaster are still unknown. The Ministry of Home Affairs compensated the families of the missing and the dead, but it hasn’t done much to alleviate the risk others are living with.
Locals of hill districts like Taplejung, Panchthar, Tehrathum and Sankhuwasabha among others are at high risk of landslides. Authorities believe that climate change-induced erratic weather patterns and ad hoc development activities are the main causes of these frequent life-threatening landslides. But despite identifying the reasons behind the recurring occurrence of landslides, none of the authorities have come forward with a solution, says Krishna Ojha, a central member of the Federation of Community Forestry Users Nepal (FECOFUN).
Stating that the rate at which unsustainable development works are being carried out in these districts is just adding to the stress of this disaster-prone area, he said, “Everything has just enhanced the risk of flash floods and landslides putting many lives at risk,” he said.
In addition to being exposed to climate change, the topography of the hilly regions is becoming more vulnerable because of irresponsible constructions in the name of infrastructure development, Ojha added.
Ganesh Adhikari, chief administrative officer of Mauwakhola Rural Municipality, too agrees that the risk of landslides in the region has increased due to haphazard construction of physical infrastructure which more often than not involves cutting off hills and changing the course of rivers.
Though the government has imposed a policy for disaster management and the local unit also has allocated budget to raise awareness for disaster management and preparedness, authorities say the measures have not been effective. “In every community, people think that roads are essential for development. Therefore, they build roads wherever they think necessary—without technical guidance or knowledge,” said Adhikari.
The risk of natural disasters in the hilly regions, especially that of landslides, has increased over the years also because of increased human activities. The steep region of the Mahabharat range has seen an overwhelming presence of human activities in that major construction projects being undertaken at unprecedented speed. Bishwo Limbu, Headmaster of Moti Secondary School in Khokling, said that locals have started to level their fields using dozers, irrigate steep land and drain out water without much thought to the repercussions of such “developments”.
According to locals in Taplejung, major landslide prone areas in the district are Hirewa, Chinewa and Phurumbu of Hangdewa in Phungling Municipality-9, Khokse and Thumbedin of Pathibhara Yangwarak-1 and Lingkhim and Thiwa in Phaktalung Rural Municipality. People living in the settlements nearby Tamor, Ghunsa, Kaweli, Mewa and Mauwa among other rivers and rivulets are also at risk of floods and landslides. Indra Gurung, chairman of the District Red Cross, said that they cannot categorise any of these areas as “safe” locations.
Chief District Officer Anuj Bhandari, however, said that the local units have been raising awareness about prevention and preparedness in the communities. “Security personnel have been trained for rescue and relief operations in case of emergencies,” said Bhandari.