8-14 August 2014 #719

A flood of tears

BIKRAM RAI

The residents of Jure along the Arniko Highway had no warning. Most of them were asleep when the whole side of a mountain fell on their homes. About 40 bodies have been recovered, but more than 100 are believed to be missing. The landslide covers a swathe 500m across, and filled the river with rocks and mud 50m thick (above). Such was the energy of the impact that the landslide scoured a heavily forested slope on the opposite bank.

This wasn’t just a humanitarian disaster, but an economic one as well. It cut Nepal’s critical trade and tourism artery with China, as well as a transmission line feeding 46MW from the Bhote Kosi to the grid. Two other plants generating 15 MW are out of action.

It was as if to remind us of the hazards of infrastructure planning in the Himalaya that the Bhote Kosi disaster occurred on the eve of the visit to Nepal by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi where proposals for major hydroprojects on the Mahakali and Karnali were discussed.

The landslide reminded us of the fragile geology of the Himalaya, its seismicity and the probability of extreme rainfall events due to climate change.

The immediate task after the search and rescue is to reduce the size of the impounded lake which still threatens the valley downstream. The crisis is yet another reminder that Himalayan rivers can be unpredictable due to monsoon floods, landslide and glacial lake outburst floods. Human settlements and infrastructure have to take this risk into account.

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