Landslides threaten many settlements across Pyuthan

Published On: August 10, 2016 09:05 AM NPT By: LB Thapa

Haphazard development, human settlement and last year’s earthquakes aggravated landslides this year 

PYUTHAN, Aug 9: Landslides are quite common in Pyuthan. Over the last two and half decades, they have claimed many human lives along with destroying many settlements. Many of the locals have abandoned their ancestral homes in search for secure places. Despite this, many of the landslide-prone hills are still inhabited by locals. Some of them are held back in lack of financial resources for relocating to safer location and some out of inability to abandon the land of their ancestors. 

“The lands are quite prone to landslides as soil erosion is quite common. People live under constant fear that disaster might befall upon them anytime,” said Lal Bahadur Oli, chief of District Soil Conservation Office (DSCO). 

This Saturday, landslide wreaked havoc in Khabang VDC. One house was fully covered by soil while few others were partially damaged. 50 people have already lost lives due to landslide in the last four months alone. Landslides last week damaged 166 houses in the district, according to Natural Disaster Relief Committee. Over 3,500 locals have been displaced recently while 498 houses are in high risk of landslides, the committee reports.

Stakeholders lament that the issue of soil erosion or soil conservation has not been a major priority for the district authorities. The district soil conservation office was established in 1986 for raising awareness and taking necessary measures for soil conservation in the district. However locals feel that except for a few small efforts towards these objectives, the office has not been able to justify its presence in the district. 

DSCO Chief Oli pointed to the uncontrolled human settlements as one of the major challenges in controlling soil erosion. “Controlling haphazard human settlement was and remains a major challenge towards controlling soil erosion,” he said. “This year, the loss from the landslides has been even more evident. Landslides were far more frequent and alarming this time.” 

Apart from that, Oli conceded that the office has not able to carry out effective plans to control soil erosion in the district due to lack of budget. “We don’t get budget that would be necessary for planning, preparing and implementing programs for controlling soil erosion across the district. Though there is a need for the office to make bigger interventions at the community level, we are held back from doing so in lack of necessary budget.” 

Oli said that his office spent Rs 4.6 million for soil conservation during the last fiscal year. Apart from that the office had received Rs 3 million as part of the Asare Bikash project fund. “In total our last fiscal years’ total spending was Rs 7.6 million. As most of the VDCs in Pyuthan are very much prone to landslides, the budget was too scarce for addressing the issue,” he said adding that issue is yet to receive due attention and budget from concerned authorities. 

He claimed that most of the VDCs in the district have been actually facing landslides for the past two and half decade. Last year’s earthquake further deteriorated the situation as it hit the firmness of the earth surface. Geographical feature could be one thing, but human induced danger has no less added to the threat of landslides in the district, Oli states. “In name of development, road tracks were opened haphazardly. There was no scientific assessment of pros and cons of such acts. Heavy dozers and other equipments were used to root off trees,” he explained stating these haphazard acts further contributed to landslides.

Every year Pholpi, Arkha, Khawang, Rajwara, Majhkot, Ligha, Damu, Puja and Khung, among VDCs of Pyuthan are included in the list of the VDCs highly prone to landslides. These were also the VDCs that were recently affected by landslides last week. According to Oli, the government brings out such report every year, but do not come up with any plan to mitigate the risks. Human settlements from such risky areas should have been transferred elsewhere, he stressed. “According to national report, many villages have been classified as under severe threat of landslides since the last 3 decades, but nothing substantial has been done to ensure security of those localities,” he said.

Lack of experts to study landslides in affected VDCs 
Janakraj Panta, Chief of District Administration Office pointed to the lack of experts for studying land erosion across VDCs affected by the landslide. “We have lack of experts for studying soil, landscape, topography and other geographical features in VDCs that have been affected by landslides. In lack of such study, it has been difficult to plan and carryout resettlement and reconstruction programs for the displaced,” he said.

Panta further said that he has already sent letter to the concerned department for planning temporary and permanent solution of the problems faced by the displaced. “There is need of temporary management of their shelter for now. But in the long run, it has to be permanent. We have already sent letter in this regard to the Home Ministry. And due to delays in the reply resettlement efforts have been delayed,” he informed adding that relocation and resettlement of the displaced to a safe location will be easier on the basis of recommendations put forward by experts. 

He informed that a team of five engineers have been dispatched to landslide affected areas for collecting accurate data of the total loss incurred by the landslides. The team is entrusted with the responsibility to conduct household survey in the affected areas along with accessing the condition of the houses. Apart from this team, another team comprising officials from various departments have also been dispatched for assessing situation in the landslide hit VDCs.  The findings are expected to provide road map for authorities at the district to dispatch relief. 

Meanwhile 150 tents have been received from the Home Ministry for families whose house have been totally destroyed by the landslides or are under serious threat of landslides. 

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