The rains were heavy in Eastern Nepal last year and caused much damage and devastation. This year was the turn of the Far Western and Mid-Western Regions for similar ordeals. Our Prime Minister, is likely to tell the UN and the world that this is the result of global warming. Experts anticipate that the Himalayas will receive more rainfall during future Monsoon periods as climate temperature rises. There is trepidation as to what will happen in years to come.
The catastrophic landslide which occurred in the early hours of Saturday 2nd August 2014 at Jure in Mankhaa VDC of Sindupalchowk caused the blocking of the Sunkoshi River. Some experts have stated that this was the after effects of a landslide which occurred in June last year. There had been a similar episode on a smaller scale in June 1987. This brings to one’s mind the phrase that our ‘mountains being young and fragile’ are prone such incidents.
In the immediate aftermath there was much fear that the artificially created dam might break open and cause massive devastation not only in Nepal but also in Bihar, India. A state of high alert was sounded but thankfully the anticipated catastrophe did not occur.
Fortunately for us the personnel of the Nepal army managed initially to create one and later two outlets from this dam to let the water out. It was done slowly with the fear that the new lake might burst its wall. That this was a gigantic task was soon apparent for the level of the water in the massive artificial lake decreased by just one and half metres over the course of nearly a fortnight! Can we not turn this misfortune into a blessing in disguise? Dr. JR Pokharel, an expert writing in a National Daily recently stated that such suddenly created dams have been allowed to remain and then utilised for hydropower generation in New Zealand, Switzerland and the USA. As constructing dam might years here, this seems like a God sent opportunity. Can such a possibility be examined after draining some of the water to reopen the Kodari road connection or by reinforcing the artificial dam and making an alternative transport track or road?
The excessive rainfall this year has also demonstrated is that many river crossings are necessary in our land of mountains and rivers, where people living in the hills and dales at the mercies of natural disasters. It has demonstrated our unpreparedness to tackle such occurrences. What makes existing realities even worse is that school children in many areas of this land have to cross these hurtling rivers on ‘twines’ at great risk to their lives. This should be a matter of shame. The construction of suspension bridges on a nationwide basis and the maintenance of these by local village committees should be of prime importance.
The sad part is that the swollen rivers have damaged and put at risk the use of many bridges in Nepal. Some have been swept away. The reality here too, in general is that bridges take a long time to be built. One has only to think of two recent examples in Kathmandu itself. The bridge of Manohara at Sanu Thimi and that of Bagmati at Sinamangal took about eight and six years respectively. I give below some examples of such inefficiencies in building bridges that have been reported in Himalayan Times (Nepali) recently:
- The Mechi bridge which the then Deputy PM had laid the foundation stone in 2066 BS had had two similar performances by top political dignitaries in 2024 and 2041 previously. It is only now being completed after sixty-five years.
- A bridge at Rajapur over the Garuwa River for which survey had been done as long ago as 2040 is only now being completed after a period of thirty years.
Whilst bridges are not being built, the dredging of sand and taking of rocks and boulders from the river bed to crush into roda or aggregates in the vicinity of bridges has resulted in rivers flowing faster and affecting the foundations of these very structures leading to collapse or becoming dangerous for use. Papers have stated that many persons involved in these activities are neither registered, nor pay tax and work as they please, wherever they want. Many of the local are apparently just turning a blind eye.
With the slogan of more communication heavy equipment such as bulldozers are being used haphazardly to build jeep tracks to the hinterland without taking note of the hill or the mountainside. Using smaller equipment may take longer time but would disturb the surrounding terrain much less and not cause landslides.
Bridges in Nepal seem to be important only at times that VIPs are due to cross over the structure. One notices many security personnel around and above them during the times of VIP movements. What must however be accepted is that the Nepal Army has done a creditable job in rescuing stranded Nepalis and ferrying them to safer grounds. Perhaps their response could have been a bit quicker and professional too.
During the course of the last decade one has read opinions regarding why we need to have such a large army when we are not in a position to fight with anyone of our two immediate neighbours. Some political pundits have suggested that there should be compulsory conscription of our able bodied youth. Whether this last suggestion is neither feasible nor desirable is another matter. The presently existing Nepal Army could however be utilised as a Rapid Mobilisation Force at time to disasters to save and shelter the Nepali population. This is in addition to the other nation building activities such as building roads and bridges for rapid communication in all parts of our country.