SaveTheHills(STH) is a group of concerned citizens who are raising awareness about landslides in Darjeeling-Sikkim Himalaya.
Many landslides are the direct or indirect result of human interference and preventable if sufficient care is taken.
As such, unless we begin a comprehensive and sustained program towards landslide management, prevention and mitigation, the consequences of ignoring years of human callousness will, in the future be devastating.
2017's theme for International Mountain Day on 11Dec2017 could not be more apt for the Indian Himalayan Region (IHR). It is :-
Mountains under pressure : Climate, Hunger and Migration
Having worked on DRR issues of this region for the past 10yrs I am acutely aware just how much stress is building up in these mountains - rainfall patterns have become oscillations between excessive rain during a few months to almost drought like conditions for the remaining parts of the year; this and huge human interference in the mountains must surely be at least partly responsible for the immense shortage of water all along the IHR. Consequently, agriculture is no longer a profitable vocation in the mountains which in turn impacts food production to the extent that many parts of the IHR are today totally dependent on food supply from the plains. This sets into motion the humongous migration of especially the young from rural areas to the urban landscape and from our urban centers to the metropolis and abroad in search of better futures.
As such I am extremely glad to be part of the organization team which is holding a one day talk session at my old college ie St Joseph's College North Point, Darjeeling to exchange views on this most urgent topic.
On 11Dec again, the Sustainable Development Forum of Uttaranchal (SDFU) and the GBPNIHESD are organizing the annual 'Dr RS Tolia Memorial Lecture' on the first anniversary of Dr Tolia's death. This will be held at the Regional Science Centre in Dehradun with Shri Chandi Prasad Bhatt, Padma Bhushan delivering the keynote address Dr RS Tolia, was of course a visionary and a mountain of a man who was one of the founding fathers of the IMI.
I was fortunate to have known him, being a part of IMI.
1. Nimbong is a small village located on the eastern fringes of Kalimpong district
(BDO - 1). The gram panchayat has a population of approx 8000 but the town has a population of 2659 (Census 2011). Agriculture is the main source of livelihood here. Being located on the foothills, heavy rainfall associated with thundershowers is a normal phenomenon during the monsoons.
Nimbong is no stranger to landslides with 36 people dying in 1996 and a huge landslide being located at Central Gaon which was reported by SaveTheHills (STH) in July2009 (see STH blog of that month). While the Central Gaon landslide seems to have somewhat stabilized, another landslide seems to be wreaking havoc in Nimbong. This is the landslide at Zero. 2.Zero Landslide
The significance of the Zero landslide is :-
It has breached 200m of the vital road connection which links Nimbong, Lava, Samthar, Pabringtarm, Ghanti Dara with Kalimpong and the plains of the Dooars and Siliguri.
It directly threatens Anuj SUMI school, a branch of SUMI school (Kalimpong) with approx 250 students.
The landslide crown being barely 200m from Nimbong town also puts the entire town in grave danger in the long term.
This is evident from the Google Image below :-
3. Brief History of
Zero landslide As per locals who were interviewed, the landslide started in 2012 as a
minor ‘crack’ on the road below the
Anuj (SUMI) school. It slowly became a ‘sinking area’ and this subsidence
area on the road became a full blown landslide in 2015. The landslide has
been increasing in size since then and in 2016 it totally cut off
Kalimpong-Nimbong-Siliguri link. This necessitated an alternate
diversionary route across the slide made below the Anuj SUMI School and
constructed through MNREGA. This road too was pulled down by the slide in
4. Probable cause
Pending a proper scientific study, inquiries made by STH reveal that:-
There are numerous natural springs in this area which sprout water and which has been used as a source of drinking water and agriculture by the surrounding villages for decades. These sub-surface water sources as per locals caused sinking zones on the Kalimpong- Nimbong- Siliguri road in this area which eventually caused the landslide.
Though Nimbong town is in the vicinity, the urban sprawl is still small and may not be contributing significantly to surface run-off and eventual erosion by jhoras which is a major cause of landslides in Kalimpong district.
A small river or jhora flows at the base of Zero landslide but the impact of erosion caused by this on the landslide also appears negligible.
There have been no major land use / land cover changes in the recent past which could have contributed to the slide. The Kalimpong-Nimbong-Siliguri road which has been cut off by the landslide was constructed in the 1970s.
Lying in the foothills of North Bengal, this area receives heavy rain during the monsoons in the form of intense thundershowers. This certainly is a major trigger for landslides in this area.
Unfortunately, rainfall data of this region was not available to STH. 6. Location and dimensions of Zero landslide
Coordinates: N 26° 58' 08.4", E 088° 34' 13.8"
The landslide today is huge, measured on Google Earth the length from the crown (just a few meters below the school) till the base is approx 700m.
The width at the road is approx 150m. 7. Casualties and losses
Till date the landslide has not resulted in any human casualties, even though locals have reported loss of livestock. As on date five families have been relocated and along with property, livelihoods and farmland has been lost.
But the real danger posed by the slide is in the future, where this slide will:-
Destroy Anuj SUMI school, a class 11 standard school with approx 250 students
Destroy a number of homes which lie on the edge of the landslide zone.
Destroy a heritage Church built in 1886.
Destroy the Nimbong Panchayat office.
Breach the Kalimpong –Nimbong-Siliguri road which will effectively isolate large areas of eastern Kalimpong district.
Ultimately destabilize Nimbong town.
8. Suggested remedial measures
What was apparent to STH after spending a day touring the landslidewhat is evident is that time is of essence and in order to mitigate further damage that the landslide may cause, the following remedial measures are suggested :-
A proper scientific investigation may be done (by the GSI) immediately to find the cause of the landslide and to suggest measures to mitigate further damage.
Emergency landslide protection measures which include bio-engineering (vetiver, bamboo check dams etc ) as well as other engineering methods maybe commenced so as to stabilize the area before the next monsoons.
Rainfall data may be obtained and correlated to the activity of the Zero landslide. Manual rainfall gauges may be made available and rainfall data be maintained at Nimbong.
All inhabitants in the vicinity of the landslide may be made aware of the danger posed by the landslide especially during heavy rain or even minor earthquakes.
Internet and phone connectivity maybe improved in the area with a view to communicate weather warnings.
If I have a 'favorite' landslide, it's the CHIBO-PASHYOR landslide and the reason for it being my landslide of choice is :-
It is located in the close vicinity of Kalimpong town and one can reach it within 15min on a vehicle. Not many researchers of landslides and certainly no high ranking govt official or VIP will travel 4 hrs on a bumpy, slushy road or much less, trek for 3 hrs to investigate a landslide. Most would much rather have a peek at the landslide from inside their SUV and go back to the comfort of a plush hotel to discuss the landslide on a laptop!
The CHIBO-PASHYOR landslide is humungous - sufficiently big to impress researchers and VIPs alike yet not too dangerous during the dry season and winters, when most landslide research/survey is carried out. Yes! While flood surveys are conducted when a river is in full spate and large areas are submerged, most landslide surveys are generally done in the post monsoon (dry) period, when much of damage has been repaired or devastation/impact of landslides cannot be gauged fully. Too bad. SO while there are huge and dangerous landslides else where in this region, the CHIBO-PASHYOR slide remains my favorite and with the numerous scientific and other teams visiting it, I am glad that there is a tiny glimmer of light at the end of a long, dark tunnel. And all said and done, I am extremely glad that landslides in this region are getting due attention at last and that STH is able to play a minuscule role in all this.
Project 'LANDSLIP' was in Darjeeling in Jan2017 (see here).
I am glad that STH could meet them and Practical Action once again, this time in Kalimpong and spend the entire day with them. We started the day with a presentation on the landslide scenario on Kalimpong and more specifically the CHIBO- PASHYOR landslide and then carried out a field visit in this landslide area with local guides. As stated by Dr George Adamson of the team, the project aims at developing landslide EW (early warning) methodology based on accurate prediction of heavy rainfall whereby mountain communities living in landslide prone areas could be alerted in time to take requisite measures to save lives.
The team had a strong presence of social scientists which is perhaps the right way to go, because strengthening community resilience and awareness is of utmost importance in any landslide disaster scenario. LANDSLIP will be working in the Darjeeling-Sikkim Himalaya and the Nilgiris.
From 'The Hindu' (15Sep2017) : Recurving cyclones dried August rains
A strange pattern of tropical cyclones (TC) in the Western Pacific
appear to be the reason for the drying up of monsoon rains in August
across India. The India Meteorological Department (IMD) had
predicted normal monsoon rains in August, typically the second most
bountiful monsoon month after July. During the monsoon months,
cyclones in the Western Pacific move westwards towards India and aid
rain-bearing systems over the sub-continent. But during some years they
‘recurve’, or start to swing north-east, and do not give as much of a
push to the rains as they do in the good monsoon years Read further here
The delay in putting up this report as well as the incomplete data in the Sikkim report is regretted but was totally beyond our control, due the ban on internet in this region and the ongoing political agitation. Praful Rao, Kalimpong district Darjeeling-Sikkim Himalaya
July is the month that monsoon rainfall peaks in this region and it did just that. We had normal rainfall in Darjeeling and Kalimpong with Kurseong (as usual, taking the cake).
As stated earlier, the entire
Darjeeling/Kalimpong districts have been under lock down for the past 60
days with an indefinite strike in progress here because of the ongoing political turmoil. Life
has been paralyzed with vehicular traffic off road, tea gardens,
schools and colleges closed, hydro-electric stations shut down and
internet banned. Under
these altered circumstances, STH, like everyone else has confined to
barracks and as such the absence of posts or data on this blog. Do bear with us. Praful Rao, Kalimpong district Darjeeling- Sikkim Himalaya
Despite at least two low pressure areas which formed in the Bay of Bengal the Darjeeling- Sikkim Himalaya remained largely deficient in rainfall. Remember, June is a month when rainfall in this region more or less peaks (see graph below).
Of course, all the rain went east to the north eastern states and Bangladesh where there was and continues to be devastation due to excessive rain.
No major landslides occurred during this period.
Starting 08Jun2017, the Darjeeling and Kalimpong districts were swept by another form of disaster - political turmoil, with people of the region aspiring for a separate state of GORKHALAND. As on date, we are on the 20th day of a total strike with internet virtually non-existent and mobile services severely affected.
This shutdown of communications (including road) during of a time of year when we are most disaster prone, does not forebode well for us.