Why are floods in Kathmandu getting severe each year?Urban planners say a combination of reckless land use and haphazard urbanization is making Kathmandu prone to more deadly floods.
Sushila Bhattarai’s three-storey house in Thimi is a few minutes walk from Hanumante River in Bhaktapur. When incessant rainfall began Thursday night and continued well into Friday, the 37-year-old housewife couldn’t stop thinking about how the swollen Hanumante river had inundated her home and neighbourhood last year. The possibility of another flood brought back old fears.
“I couldn’t sleep properly because I was terrified the water would gush into our home like last time,” said Bhattarai.
Hanumante River, which originates from north-west of Kathmandu Valley, causes havoc every monsoon, leaving streets and homes in Bhaktapur waterlogged for days, displacing hundreds of families and even claiming lives. This time it’s been kinder with no reported human casualty, but like in the past, waters from the swollen river entered several settlements in Bhaktapur over the weekend.
Bhattarai’s home in Thimi was spared.
But other neighbourhoods in Kathmandu haven’t been so lucky. Hundreds of families have been affected by torrential rainfall, and some areas surrounding Balkhu and Kuleshwor witnessed extreme levels of flooding never seen before.
Urban planners blame the Valley’s haphazard urbanisation and reckless land use for the severity of floods seen in the last few years.
“Nature has its own course and we are simply facing the consequences of human encroachment on floodplains of the Valley,” said Suman Maher Shrestha, an urban planner.
Planners like Shrestha have for years been warning about the dire effects of rapid and unplanned urbanisation.
Human settlements have cropped up along the riverbanks of Kathmandu and densely populated neighbourhoods have been built by blocking rivulets’ way.
More people flocking to the Valley during and immediately after the conflict also saw huge swathes of agricultural land being taken over by real estate developers.
This meant less area to absorb rainwater, which ultimately swells rivers like Hanumante, which then spills over into the new settlements confining the river flow.
“If the rain hadn’t stopped today, the situation would have been worse,” said Shrestha. “The local governments need to create an inventory of floodplains and public land and not let land mafia misuse them.”
Successive governments’ failure to honour and implement plans to prohibit construction near riverbanks has also added to Kathmandu’s flash flood woes, said Yogeshwor Parajuli, former chief commissioner of the Kathmandu Valley Development Authority. Parajuli, who during his tenure at the authority conducted studies about Kathmandu’s land use, fears that monsoon havocs will continue to magnify if the local bodies aren’t able to put a stop to the haphazard land use.
“We need to respect a river’s right of way, otherwise there will be catastrophes every time there is intense rainfall,” Parajuli said.