pokhara landslide

In Pokhara, A Weekend of Rain and Disasters

At first, Raj Kumar felt like an earthquake had struck. His wife, Bishnu Shrestha, thought it was thunder. The couple woke up here in the Tinkune area of Pokhara Lekhnath Metropolitan City, Nepal’s largest, on Sunday morning just after 4AM knowing something was amiss. When they came out of their house, they found others had done the same.

On the ridge outside their walls, a familiar landscape had changed dangerously. A huge section of a tall clay cliff with the raging Seti river at least a 100 feet below it, was falling apart.

“Other villagers had gathered just outside our house. It seems they had seen a large chunk of the cliff crack and break off into the river during the 2015 earthquake as well,” Bishnu Shrestha told Onward Nepal as her husband Raj Kumar peeled corn husks on a humid Monday morning, and curious locals continued to arrive outside their rented house to view the disaster.

“That land you see in the middle of the gorge between our side and the cliff on the other side,” Raj Kumar said, pointing towards the gorge, “Well, that was attached to the cliff until Sunday when it broke away.”

Over in Parsyang Pakha, a foothill in the metropolis where farmlands have been steadily developed into real estate in recent years, streets remained an active stream from the weekend’s rain. In the midday heat today, locals scraped off the rubble and red clay on the streets that the rain had brought in from the hills. Patiently, they tossed it to the side of the streets where several tall piles of the mix had built up. Homes were flooded and damaged, lives disrupted.

 

Children walk home from school as locals try to clear the street of the weekend’s flood that washed in mud and rubble from the hills in Parsyang Pakha, Pokhara Lekhnath Metropolitan City, even as a stream of rainwater flows steadily.

All photos: Kashish Das Shrestha /ON

Top: The landmass seen in the foreground with cracks on top, broke apart from the ground in the background on Sunday morning after a weekend of ‘extreme rain event.’

‘Extreme Rain Event’

Monsoon disasters are recurring in Nepal. Pokhara, home to the largest metropolis in the country, receives some of the highest rainfall in the country. There was a total rainfall of 190mm over 24 hours on Saturday. It peaked at 160mm over a span of two hours. The Department of Hydrology and Meteorology considers 100mm rain in 24 hours as an ‘extreme rain event.’  The average for July is 940.3mm.

While sporadic incidents of floods and landslides during monsoon are not uncommon, the increasing frequency of such disasters due to human-led activities accompanied by natural process is of serious concern, Madhukar Upadhyay, an expert on watershed and climate change, told Onward Nepal.

“The movement of human settlements along the riverbanks and adjoining vegetation areas that once used to be the natural river course is leading to increased vulnerabilities and disasters,” he said.

One of the biggest challenges in disaster management has been the lack of priority at the policy level on land management while developing cities and expanding infrastructures.

“Given the weak geology and slopes surrounding Pokhara, the valley is vulnerable to slope failures and landslides. However, very little attention has been given to the ever-expanding and unplanned human settlements and infrastructural developments in the city and surrounding areas,” Upadhyay added.

Locals at the site of Sunday’s disaster.

Active Monsoon, Active Disasters

“Monsoon has entered an active phase since last week. Many places, including the weak hilly slopes are vulnerable to landslips and landslides while Tarai districts are threatened by flashfloods due to moderate to intense rainfall,” said Binod Parajuli, a hydrologist at the Department of Hydrology and Meteorology.

Continuous rains since Friday evening in Kaski, and many other hilly parts in Eastern, Central, and Western Nepal, have unleashed a series of devastating monsoon-induced disasters across the country.

Two people were killed in separate landslide incidents that occurred in Kaski district, adjoining the Pokhara Valley, early Sunday morning. At least 14 people have been killed while four remain missing in landslides that took place in different hilly districts since the onset of monsoon this year on June 12.

Every year, more than 300 people die in monsoon disasters. Kaski, in which Pokhara lies, is also one of the 31 districts affected by the Gorkha earthquake.  People live with a high risk of landslides and slope failures during monsoon.

Locals spent their Monday clearing debris from Sunday morning’s landslide in Parsyang Pakha, Pokhara Lekhnath Metropolitan City.