HP’s rain fury revealed: incessant monsoon, state being prone to frequent landslides or anthropogenic factors
Mohan Lal Verma / Shimla, July 29
This North Western Himalayan State is currently in dire need of humanitarian assistance as around 185 people have died and 212 have suffered life-threatening injuries in various rain-related mishaps in the last one month. The loss to property has mounted up to Rs 6000 Crore in official figures and roughly estimated to be about ten thousand Crore. When accounting for the actual loss, including human and private properties, and damages to National Highways and its further implications on the economy, such as tourism, hydro power, agriculture, horticulture, and revenues, the total loss might exceed Rs 25000 Crore.
The most significant natural and anthropogenic reason for these disasters is landslides. In one month of the Monsoon season, the state recorded around 71 landslides, which is more than any other rain season. According to the state Disaster Management Authority, out of the 68 landslides that occurred, 54 people were killed in the landslides, and flash floods caused 129 casualties.
Himachal Pradesh, one among thirteen mountain states, is characterized by an extreme landscape featuring several peaks and extensive river systems. Around 90% of the state’s population lives in rural areas, and agriculture, horticulture, hydro-power, and tourism are important constituents of the state’s economy.
In India, the major areas which are affected by landslides are the Northwest Himalayas contribute about 66.5 per cent of landslides in India, followed by the Northeast Himalayas -18.8 per cent and the Western Ghats – 14.7 pc.
According to the Landslide Atlas 2023, Himachal Pradesh recorded 1561 landslides between 2014 to 2017. The state’s vulnerability to landslides is evident from its ranking in landslide exposure among districts, with Rudrprayag district of Uttarakhand having the highest landslide density in the country. Mandi district of Himachal Pradesh ranked 16th among the top landslide exposure districts in the country, followed by Hamirpur (25), Bilaspur (30), Chamba (32), Solan (37), Kinnuar (46), Kullu (57), Shimla (61), and Kangra (62), among others.
The landslides have had severe implications for the state’s economy, especially in areas heavily reliant on agriculture, horticulture, hydro-power, and tourism. The excess monsoon rainfall, which was about 100% higher than predicted, further worsened the situation, resulting in floods affecting low-lying areas and causing significant damage to villages and infrastructure. Not to stop here as pattern as Kinnuar and Lahaul Spiti district which registered only five to ten per cent of the annual rainfall in this month recorded 3340 per cent and 650 pc excess rainfall.
The occurrence of landslides in the region is influenced by geological/topographic factors and triggering factors. Geological factors, including lithology, geological structures, slope-dip relations, geomorphology, drainage, and land use, play a dominant role in landslide susceptibility. Triggering factors, caused by anthropogenic activities such as rainfall and earthquakes, can also contribute to landslides.
A regional landslide early warning system for selective routes in Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, and North Eastern states is operational on an experimental basis for the monsoon season. It utilizes rainfall forecast data from various sources to predict potential landslides.
Despite the availability of precision data with organizations like the National Remote Sensing Centre (NRSC), National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), State Disaster Management Authority (SDMA), and Indian Meteorological Department (IMD), accurate forecasting of landslides remains a challenge. The advancement of technology, like the mobile app Bhuvan Film developed by NRSC, has helped in data collection and prediction but is not always fool proof.
Taking an example, interestingly National Remote sensing centre Hyderabad forecasted the Sep 2, 2017 massive landslides in Shimla on Dhalli-Shimla bypass road near Bhatkuffar fruit market. It was done three day in advance saving large number of causality.
On the other hand the report published in 2022 by the National Report sensing Centre in the Landslide atlas said that Kotropi village of Mandi district disaster occurred on August 13, 2017 on Mandi -Pathankot NH 154 between Mandi town and Jogindernagar in the Mandi district, Himachal Pradesh killed around 60 people. The landslide resulted from rotation failure near the crown region followed by deep transnational mechanism along the landslide body and channelized debris flow along the toe. Interestingly NRSC could not forecast the Kotropi landslides and as a numbers of buses which were washed down (as they had stopped their stoppage on a food eatery), could have been averted.
Experts believe that the advancement of technology still fails to protect life and property as it may be the communication gaps and negligence of NDMA, SDMA and DDMA to not issue proper advisories despite that data of LSZ is available to these bodies.
The recent disasters have highlighted the need for better coordination and communication between various disaster management bodies and proper advisories to be issued promptly based on the landslide susceptibility zones (LSZ) data available. Negligence in this regard may have contributed to the loss of life and property in the recent landslides.
The state of Himachal Pradesh and the central authorities need to take urgent measures to address the vulnerability to landslides and strengthen disaster preparedness and response mechanisms to mitigate future risks effectively.
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