People in Need supporting communities and local authorities to manage landslide and mitigate risks through risk-informed planning

Published: Dec 3, 2021 Reading time: 8 minutes
People in Need supporting communities and local authorities to manage landslide and mitigate risks through risk-informed planning
© Foto: Sajana Shrestha
Residents in Sindhupalchowk has to struggle through one natural disaster after another, and this year, the monsoon season induced landslides have only added to their woes. Krishna Bahadur Newar found his home in Barhabise, Sindhupalchowk swept away by a recent landslide."It's really difficult for me to think about the incident and the loss that I suffered is unfathomable,”Newar says. “The sudden landslide not only took away my home and property but also my wife, leaving me and my injured son all alone. I was frightened and furious at the same time for losing everything."

“In some places the whole hill comes down wiping out the whole settlement. When we see these places, you would never know there was a settlement before” says Jampa Tsering Lama, Disaster Risk Reduction and Emergency Coordinator for People in Need (PIN). “When the landslide is minor, people can recover their livelihood” Lama explains, “but if the impact is high, their livelihood and property are wrecked leaving people with no choice but to relocate to safer areas”.

The monsoon rainfall is considered the primary reason for landslide in hilly areas of Nepal, however improper land use and non-engineered road constructions have also contributed significantly towards existence of local landslides in recent decades. In addition to that, 2015 earthquakes have further exacerbated the problem by severely weakening landmasses, thereby increasing the probability for future landslides. Therefore, taking into account the recurring nature of the problem, there is a clear need for an intervention to improve knowledge of the landslide hazards and technical capacity for the authorities to ensure effective landslide management at local the level.

With the humanitarian funding from European Union, People in Need along with its consortium partners Community Self Reliance Centre (CSRC), National Society for Earthquake Technology - Nepal (NSET), Scott Wilson Nepal (SWN), Durham University, and Northumbria University is implementing Pratibaddha: Risk-Informed Landslide Management in Nepal's Hill Areas Project to increase the resilience of communities in rural hill areas through effective mitigation and management of landslides. The key objective of the project is to work with local authorities and disaster management institutions, key actors involved in road construction and infrastructure projects, communities and national government to increase their understanding of landslide hazards, the risks they pose and the impact of human disturbance on communities exposed to hazard risks.

Pratibaddha project has been working with communities, local authorities and relevant stakeholders in Sindhupalchowk and Dolakha districts by engaging local authorities and disaster management bodies in a series of capacity-building programs using innovative hazard and risk-mapping tools, as well as through awareness-raising campaigns and workshops for local user committees, schools, private contractors, engineers, and relevant stakeholders to enhance their knowledge of hazards, risks, and human disturbance.

Increasing understanding of landslide hazards

The project uses custom-built 3D landslide models to demonstrate to the communities how landslides occur and possible causes behind them, how to interpret early signs and symptoms, and various cost-effective mitigation measures to minimize risks at local level. Similarly, it uses participatory 3D maps to discuss impacts of landslide hazards on different types of stakeholders, particularly the communities including vulnerable groups and decision makers and demonstrate how the tool can be used for risk-informed planning at local level. In addition to that, the project also organizes awareness campaigns around effects of human activities and infrastructure development works, particularly road constructions, effective ways to mitigate landslide risks through bio-engineering, slope monitoring and maintenance techniques as well as preparedness, response and rehabilitation activities that can be done at personal and community level to ensure safety against landslides.

“I wish these practical techniques for water management and landslide risk reduction were included in our school curriculum”, shared a student of Gaurishankar School, where the project conducted the workshop. The students were delighted to learn that planting vegetation on the drywalls and maintaining proper drainage (bioengineering) in their backyard can stop erosion of soil as well as prevents landslips along the slopes.

Local residents shared their past experiences and knowledge stressing how sensitive they used to be about maintaining nature while implementing the development works. "Earlier men and women used to construct road manually. We used to dig using shovels and local resources or equipment, now everywhere dozers are used and it's destroying everything", recalls Gauri Maya Shrestha, a local resident of Nayabasti. She further adds, "the road construction used to provide job opportunities to local people as well." Another resident Lal Bahadur Thing adds, "There is political influence on the road constructions. The government should focus on integrated settlements in safe places rather than allowing people to construct wherever they like."

Strengthening technical capacity at local level

The Pratibaddha project carried out two 8-days training events from 23rd March to 12th April 2021 on "Landslide Assessment and Mitigation" for the technical human resources of municipalities in the project's working areas. The training events were divided into two – one for engineers and sub-engineers, and another for assistant sub-engineers Rural/Municipalities. The training also included an interaction session between engineering team and policy makers on key landslide issues, challenges, knowledge gaps and policy/budget constraints. The content was designed in such a way that each participant got an opportunity to learn from the field works to assess the landslides, prepare and present mitigation measures to control or lower the landslide risks, etc. The training sessions comprised theory classes, demonstration of properties of rocks, soil and minerals and fieldwork to understand geological aspects of the terrain where the engineers would build their infrastructures. Later, the teams carried out project work on a landslide and presented their findings along with possible mitigation measures.

Nabaraj Giri, Civil Engineer of Bhotekhoshi Rural Municipality was one of the participants of the training. He shares,"Bhotekhosi Rural Muncipality is highly landslide prone area, therefore there are many landslides in our areas and we have difficulty constructing roads. We didn’t know the mitigation measures for those landslide or ways to control it before attending the training." Sub-engineer of Barhabise Poonam Pal shares, "After attending the training, we learnt that we need to understand the landslide, its type and causes first then work on the mitigation measures."

All of these training activities aimed to capacitate technical staff in local governments to independently consider landslides in their planning processes for more risk-informed decisions, helping to reduce future landslide causalities as well as loss or damage to assets and livelihoods.

The project helped formulate rural road construction guideline and monsoon preparedness plan for the project municipalities as a part of tailored technical support. The Rural Road Construction Guideline encompasses criteria for

  • pre-feasibility, feasibility and design of road meeting engineering standards
  • b) environment friendly rural road construction practices
  • c) assured road maintenance
  • d) transparent and experience based public procurement
  • e) good environmental management practices and,
  • f) effective and environment sensitive monitoring and supervision.

Similarly, the monsoon preparedness plan encompasses municipality specific workplans related to preparedness activities before disaster, response mechanism to be adopted during disaster and relief and rehabilitation activities after the disaster. In addition to that, the plan also includes division of responsibilities for stakeholders, inventory of resources such equipment and manpower, identification of strategic locations for storage of relief materials, mapping of health services, first responders, road conditions etc.

After receiving the guideline, Nimphunjo Sherpa, the Mayor for Barhabise municipality, confided that Barhabise will start using the guideline for future constructions and that the municipality will remain committed to constructing fewer kms of road using the guideline, rather than constructing longer road sections haphazardly.

Geo-hazard assessment in Barhabise

The project, in coordination with the National Disaster Risk Reduction Management Authority (NDRRMA) of the Government of Nepal, conducted geo-hazard assessment of landslide affected settlements in all the four working municipalities. The main purpose of the assessment is to evaluate condition of landslides and determine immediate risks it poses to nearest human settlement as well as the infrastructure. Therefore, relevant mitigation measures or in worse circumstances, relocation of settlement to safer areas can be planned. These interventions will directly contribute towards reducing human fatalities as well as loss of livelihood and properties. The assessment team is comprised of a geologist, geo-technical engineer, social expert, representative from the local authority and the police.

Deputy Mayor of Barhabise Sushila Pakhrin shared that they weren't previously able to conduct geo-hazard assessment of the landslide affected sites despite their continuous effort owing to lack of resources, tools and support from concerned authority. "It proved difficult for us to formulate any Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) plans, especially for the landslide prone areas and landslide affected settlements. We are grateful that the Pratibadha project is conducting the assessment now. We can use the reports to initiate evidence-based planning for all the landslide affected areas within the municipality" she further stressed.

The geo-hazard assessments are being conducted using the NDRRMA approved 'Technical Guidelines to Conduct Field Investigation of Settlement Affected by Landslide Guideline 2077'. The assessed sites will be grouped into Category (CAT) 1, 2 and 3, where CAT 1 areas are deemed safe for settlement, CAT 2 areas deemed safe after adopting landslide mitigation measures and CAT 3 areas deemed unsafe and need relocation. These categorizations will enable CAT 3 beneficiaries to access relocation grants from the government, which will also help the local authorities offer durable solution to a recurring problem brought about by landslides every year.

The assessment team has completed geo-hazard assessment in 158 sites across 27 wards that are affected by landslides in Barhabise Municipality and Bhotekoshi Rural Municipality in Sindhupalchok, and Bigu and Tamakoshi Rural Municipalities in Dolakha.

Autor: Sajana Shrestha, Communication and Advocacy Manager for People in Need

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