Devastating landslides and floods in Melamchi River taught a lot, but lessons not learnt | Ratopati

KATHMANDU, June 9: It has been almost a year since a devastating landslide and flash flood hit Helambu Rural Municipality and Melamchi Municipality last year. Hundreds were displaced, many were killed and loss of infrastructure and property were immeasurable. 

Monsoon is here once again and it is now a time for those residing near rivers to brace for the hardest time of their year as monsoon triggers devastating landslides and flash floods across the country annually. These incidents kill hundreds in Nepal every year, and the news media will soon be flooded with news of landslides and flood wreaked havoc. But, the government, authorities concerned and general public do little to avoid it.

This year, Nepal is likely to witness more rain than average, according to meteorologists. The Department of Hydrology and Meteorology has already maintained that as many as 1,700,000 people will be affected by disasters linked with heavy rainfall this year.

It was June 15, 2021. A large portion of Bremathang, a ‘sand ground’ in the upper belt of Helambu, slipped and caused massive destruction in areas downstream. Motorable bridges, roads, houses and villages were swept away. Hundreds of families were displaced, fertile and cultivable lands turned into sand banks. It was a nightmare.

The local government had built many temporary bridges in the river for transportation after the incident which are now soon to be washed away as the river has begun swelling following the beginning of monsoon season.

Besides, the Melamchi Drinking Water Project that also suffered a heavy toll last year due to landslide and flood. The project has recently stopped supplying water to the Kathmandu Valley until further notice in order to avoid possible damages again. 

According to the Chief District Administrative Officer (CDO) of Sindhupalchowk, Bedhnidi Khanal, around 1,600 families have been directly affected by landslides and floods in the past two years in the district. “Likewise, properties and infrastructure worth billions are estimated to have been damaged. The Melamchi Drinking Water Project alone is estimated to have lost properties and infrastructures worth Rs 910,000,000,” said CDO Khanal. “Similarly, Melamchi Municipality is estimated to have suffered damages worth Rs 61 billions,” he added.  “The provincial government has recently allocated budget for construction of bridges and other infrastructure but it has already been late. Soon the monsoon will be active and we cannot work.”

Likewise, CDO Khanal also stressed a need to enact separate laws for disaster management to act immediately. “We are currently preparing a District Disaster Preparedness and Response Plan which is related to search, rescue and relief distribution. We should have acted actively since last year but due to drawbacks in our budget distribution process and Public Procurement Act, significant works to reduce disaster-linked damages have not been carried out,” he further added. 

When asked about the preparedness and response plan, Chairman of Helambu Rural Municipality, Nima Gyalzen Sherpa maintained that the local government is opening alternative roadways in the area soon. “Landslides and floods are natural, what can we do about it,” he further added. The local government seems unwilling to act and unworried about the difficult days ahead. 

Soon the temporary bridges and roadways built in the Melamchi River will be swept away. Local people residing in the upper belt of the region are likely to suffer food crises and suffer in case of health emergencies. But, the local government seems to be ignoring all these issues. Hundreds of families are currently residing either nearby the river or in a temporary residence. The local government has no solid plan to move them to safe and permanent residence. 

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