Nepal’s deadliest monsoon in recent times
This year’s monsoon season has been disastrous for Nepal, in the past two months 301 people have been killed in landslides all over the country. The death toll has now overtaken 2018 during which 292 people were killed in landlsides.
The worst-hit has been Sindhupalchok district, which has seen its most grievous loss of life since the 2015 earthquakes which killed 3,570 people. This was the district with the highest death toll with 40% of all fatalities.
Sindhupalchok received a doubly whammy: first from the 7.8M quake on 25 April 2015, and then the 7.3 aftershock on 12 May. Eighty percent of all homes in the district were destroyed.
The deadliest landslide in Nepal this year was in Lidi of Sindhupalchok, where a landslide on the night of 14 August sliced through the village killing at least 36 people. Twenty-two bodies have been retrieved so far, the others are presume buried under the rubble.
Most of the houses had been destroyed in the 2015 earthquakes, and had only recently been rebuilt with government grants. The villagers killed were all from the Tamang community, who represented a third of all fatalities in the 2015 earthquakes as well.
Ward officials in Lidi said they had sent a written appeal to the district administration a week before the landslide asking for the village to be relocated because of the danger of landslide. Engineers from the National Reconstruction Authority (NRA) had included the village in a Category 1 list of villages vulnerable to landslides.
However, the NRA has said the landslide occurred because of inappropriate drainage in the terrain above the village.
“The post-earthquake survey did say the village was at risk, but engineers had concluded that there was no need to relocate,” said the NRA’S Chandra Bahadur Shrestha. “They had suggested that an embankment wall be created to deflect a possible landslide.”
Shrestha said water was seeping through cracks that had appeared during the earthquakes, and there was no proper system to drain the water to the nearby stream. “The landslide occurred because the local government did not take steps to drain the water,” Shrestha added.
Geologists point our several factors for this year’s monsoon being so deadly. Heavy pre-monsoon showers had already saturated the top soil on steep slopes when the main rains arrived in mid-June. The monsoon itself has been more vigorous than usual with precipitation 30% above average in most places.
In additional there has been haphazard and poorly engineered road construction, which has disturbed drainage on slopes. The landslide and flood on tributaries of the Bhote Kosi that killed 23 in Jambu village of Sindhupalchok in June started out as a slope failure next to a newly-built road.
Heavy rainfall and roads have made the slopes already destabilised by the earthquakes five years ago even more fragile. Sixty-six of Nepal’s 77 districts have been affected this year by landslides and floods, and the worst-hit is Sindhupalchok, east of Kathmandu.
One year before the earthquakes, the district suffered a massive landslide that wiped out three villages near Jure and blocked the Bhote Kosi River, killing 145 people and causing huge damage to roads, bridges and hydropower plants.
Myagdi in central Nepal has also been badly hit, with three landslides on 10 July killing 27 people. Tanahu and Parbat districts have also suffered numerous landslides.
Landslide in Myagdi in central Nepal.
“There is light to moderate rain forecast for the rest of the week, but because the slopes are already saturated the danger of landlisdes will persist throughout Augusts,” says meteorologist Shanti Kandel.
She adds: “There is a low pressure system over the Bay of Bengal that is moving northwestwards and this could bring more rain later this week.”
The NRA has listed 4,829 settlements in the 14 districts affected by the 2015 earthquakes that are in high risk zones, and although the landslide risk has been mitigated in most of them, 500 villages are still in vulnerable slopes.
It says villages on slopes more than 30 degrees are relocated, but even in villages with gentler gradient irrigation water and storm drainage needs to be properly managed to reduce landslide risk.