IMPACTS OF EARTHQUAKE DEBRIS Charikot Trouble

Unmanaged and rampant disposal of earthquake wastes is wrapping the fertile agriculture land, affecting agriculture production in Dolakha. As their land is turning barren, farmers are under stress

Oct. 27, 2017, 8:46 p.m. Published in Magazine Issue: VOL.11, No.07, October 27- 2017 (Kartik 10, 2074)

“For the last two years, our land has been producing chaff in place of rice. When we plant mustard, it produces only the roots. Whatever we plant, they turn yellow and die. We cannot walk freely on our land as there are scraps, broken glasses, plastics, concrete pieces, bricks, cement, sand and what not. I cannot even till the land because the soil is so hard, it is stronger than stone,” said Tara Devi Shrestha, a resident of Ward No. 3 of Tallo Khandeltole of Bhimeshwor Municipality, 150 kilometers east of Kathmandu and close to an earthquake epicenter.

“All the hard work we do in our land is as good as wasting time and energy. As we can use no water from the nearby stream for irrigation, because of the earthquake debris, nothing is growing,” said Shrestha, with frustration.

She is not the only farmer facing this awkward difficulty. Farmers of Tallo Khandeltole of Bhimeshwor Municipality of Dolakha district share similar stories. They are all worried by the decline in the farm production after the 2015 earthquake, with debris filling up their fertile land.

Streams flowing from the top of the hill carried a large volume of debris, generated from demolished buildings in Charikot, left it here and there. The worst part is that even now the wastes are left as they are without proper treatment. Officials are little concerned about the effects of unmanaged disposal of the earthquake debris.

After the earthquake of April 2015 and subsequent aftershocks, several consultations and discussions were held with the government and other stakeholders, regarding the distribution of relief and modality of reconstruction. However, the issue of management and proper disposal of earthquake debris generated by private houses and other infrastructure got no priority.

Even as the farmers of Bhimeshwor Municipality are facing the effects of rampant disposal of wastes and debris, the issue is neither on the priority list of the local municipality.

Narayan Kumar Shrestha, head of District Agriculture Development Office, holds the view that the present crisis faced by the farmers is the result of the rampant disposal of earthquake wastes like cement, soil, sand, concrete, glass and other hazardous materials.

As the volume of water increases in the streams during the monsoon, they carry a lot of wastes, dumping them in the fields, covering the topsoil, which is responsible to enrich the plants. This affects the production.

“Until we remove the concrete, sand and other debris accumulated in the land, farmers will have to face this kind of a situation for a long time to come,” said Shrestha. “When all the topsoil is covered by the rubble, one can grow neither foodstuff nor vegetable.”

The earthquakes of 25 April and 12 May 2105 and subsequent aftershocks demolished over 100 big complexes, including government buildings, community buildings and private houses in Charikotbajar, the district headquarter of Dolakha. However, the locals were unable to properly manage the debris left by the collapsed buildings.

Many private house owners disposed of the wastes in streams and ravines near the city. As most of the ravines and streams, which are the main sources of water downstream, pass through various villages before reaching Tamakoshi, they carried the waste downstream to lands, dropping the sand, concrete, cement, plastic, glass and other wastes along the way.

As the farmers have been using the water of these streams for years for irrigation for winter crops, the stream water, which used to be the lifeline of the villages, is now killing crops.

This is a result of the lack of preparedness and technical capability on the part of the local government to carry out a proper debris management work.

“Hazardous wastes pose long-term and immediate threats to human health, agriculture field, and environment. Thus, it is critical to guarantee its proper management. Necessary safety measures need to be put in place where hazardous wastes have been disposed,” said Dr. Sumitra Manandhar, a solid waste management expert.

The earthquake also increased the scale and scope of environmental degradation, generating tons of hazardous solid waste in Charikot. As the reconstruction picks up the pace, significant environmental problems will be emerging.

As the streams coming from upstream hills are the main sources of water in the lower areas, farmers have few options before them. They are now complaining that the concrete, sand, and glass are threatening to their very livelihood.

“My land is adjacent to a stream. I used to grow rice, wheat, and vegetable. After the earthquake, my land is entirely wrapped up in the sand, cement, plastic, pieces of bricks and other wastes. With so many wastes, I am using only half of the land and even there the crop is not as good as it used to be,” said Jayanti Kusu of Khalid al Tole.

Hazardous waste is a major cause for concern all over Charikot. According to the local municipality, damaged buildings contain hundreds of liters of paint, lead, and mercury. The rubble also contains LPG gas, pesticides, acids and other chemicals.

If disaster waste remains neglected, it may contaminate the surrounding environment, causing adverse health effects in the area. Experts say the exposure to paint may result in problems with people’s respiratory tracts, skin, and digestive systems. According to World Health Organization, at high levels of exposure, lead attacks the brain and central nervous system to cause coma, convulsion, and even death. Mercury can produce harmful effects on the nervous, digestive and immune systems, lungs and kidneys and may be fatal.

As there was no pre-plan on what to do with the earthquake debris, there was ambiguity over how to manage the wastes generated by the demolished buildings. “We don’t have any plan and preparation to manage such a large volume of debris and wastes,” said a senior official of the municipality. “We dumped the debris wherever there was open space, including the banks of the streams and in ravines. Frankly speaking, many ravines and streams were covered by the debris,” said a senior official of the municipality on condition of anonymity.  

Four months after the earthquake, the International Office for Migration (IOM), in coordination with local administration, started a scientific disposal of the debris left by the houses demolished in the earthquakes. Under the agreement, IMO removed the debris of the risky houses and buildings in Charikot.

IMO removed the debris and wastes of 13 houses and buildings along the highway. However, the debris of other private houses and community houses are managed by the locals on their own.

Soon after the earthquake, District Disaster Relief Committee allocated the land of ravine and stream, which is inside Lamatar Community Forest, a few kilometers below Satdobato, main Charikot market, to dispose of the wastes and other debris of earthquake damaged buildings.

“Although we didn’t have the plan for the debris management, we chose this area for dumping in hopes that it would not have any short term and long term effect in the life of the local community,” said Suresh Raut, Engineer of Bhimeshwor Municipality.

Some locals had even protested the decision saying that the place was not proper for dumping as the ravines and rivers carried big volumes of water during the rainy season, with enough energy to take away the debris. According to them, the wastes which are creating the problems to the farmers, are the debris dumped by the people of Charikot during the night, avoiding the people.

One can still see the left out debris including sand, cement, concrete and bricks dumped here following the earthquake. Many house owners, in a rush, cleared the debris to store the windows, doors and other things to use in new construction.

Local farmers complained that their land turned barren because of rampant wastes dumped by the house owners. However, the house owners defended their decision saying that their wastes had nothing to do with the current problems.

Charikot needs to prepare a post-disaster strategy and debris management should be a key part of it. Typical debris stream after earthquake construction and demolition: Building materials Hazardous waste: Fuels, oil, batteries soil, mud, and sand.

Rising Poverty

At a time when everyone is talking about the loss of houses, death of cattle and other damage, it is likely that the number of people below the poverty line will increase. The current manmade problem threatens to add poorer in the region.

“Until three years ago, I used to produce 900 kilograms of rice annually, this year the production is down to half,” said Keshab Subedi of the village. “My land is covered by the earthquake wastes, the decline in the paddy production is natural.”

Even the students have been facing the difficulty to walk in some routes because of the risk of injury by the small pieces of iron and pieces of glass lying here and there.

“We visited the District Administration Office several times and filed the complaint about the need to clear the debris and stop further dumping. Although the DAO assured us of necessary action to those who dump wastes there, nothing has changed,” Subedi said with anger.

 However, the government officials do not see the debris management as a problem. “Our district does not have the problem related to debris management. I have not heard anything about it,” said Sagar Acharya, head of District Coordination Unit of National Reconstruction Authority.

For a few months after the earthquake, removing the debris of the destroyed houses and buildings was a major challenge for the house owners and government officials. However, the IMO support helped remove the debris left behind in by the demolished infrastructure. Private house owners managed the wastes on their own. So, the government officials do not see earthquake waste management as a problem. Despite managing a large volume of earthquake debris, few house owners are yet to clear the debris even twenty-nine months after the earthquake.

Although his neighbors have already cleared the debris to build the new houses, Ram Bahadur Budhathoki of Charikot is unable to clear the debris due to lack of money. “As I had to spend all my savings and bank loans to build the house which was destroyed by the earthquake, I am unable to clear the debris because it costs a lot,” said Budathoki, showing the debris of his house. “I will clear it once I have the money.

Like Ram Bahadur, there are several others in Charikot, who are unable to clear the debris because of the lack of money. Although the ruins of the houses along the roadside in Charighyang region of Charikot have already been cleared, many other devastated houses have remained to lie where they were, with cement, iron, and concrete scattered all around.

Concerned authorities are yet to take up the issue.  Ram Bahadur Budhathoki is unsure about where and how to manage the wastes. He also knows that the municipality will not allow him to dump these wastes at any place he likes. He is also unaware of the impact of earthquake wastes in the agriculture sector and human lives. Ram Bahadur is planning to dump the waste near the river.

Twenty-nine months after the earthquake, many people, like Ram Bahadur, say they are unsure about the implications of the wastes to agriculture and human health. According to experts, the cement, concrete, glass, and chemicals, including the paint, will have long-term impacts on the fertile land. The cement, sand, and concrete will adversely affect the topsoil and plants, leading to declining in farm production.

As the people are ignorant about the impact and other regulatory authorities are weak, the rampant dumping of wastes continues. Head of Urban Development and Building Construction of Dolakha Division Yek Raj Adhikari said that people are still dumping wastes, evading the oversight of any government authority. He said that the people still throw soil, broken pieces of bricks and concrete with abandon as there is no scientific disposal management system in the district.

Benefits of the Debris

With proper management, the earthquake debris can make a positive contribution. According to the authorities, some debris was used at the base layer of road expansion and construction. During the rainy days, these wastes were used to cover the pit on the road, helping to pave way for a regular vehicular movement.

Contractor Manoj Shrestha, who got the tender to clear the debris of the municipality hospital, a private house and library, said that he sold the concrete debris to the contractors to use in the road expansion and maintenance of Upper Tamakosi road. These materials are cheaper compared to the materials brought from outside the district. “The debris saved the money as well,” said Shrestha.

Along with the debris, like concrete and glass, there were many hazardous chemicals, including lead used in batteries and bulbs. However, the district is yet to study its implications to the human life. Nobody is giving any consideration in this direction.

Deputy Mayor of Bhimeshwor Municipality Kamala Basnyat accepts the fact that they have been unable to properly manage the earthquake wastes. She said that the municipality will now look into the debris management problem.

According to deputy mayor Basnyat, there is a lack of a proper landfill site. “We are seeing the problem because the public declines to provide land and there is no land nearby to use as a landfill site,” said Basnyat. She said that farmers are yet to come to lodge any complaint with them. If they come to us, we will take the necessary action to address their concerns.

With the objective to stop the rampant dumping of concrete and earthquake wastes, the municipality is installing CCTV cameras. Although the earthquake wastes management is a big issue, the NRA allocated only about 1.2 million rupees last year.

According to Nirmal Darshan Acharya, an engineer at the District Coordination Unit of Dolakha, out of the total budget, almost 900,000.000 was spent to clear the debris of houses along the highway, bridges, and temples. As all the debris was managed by IOM in Charikot, the government allocated this small amount.

The unmanaged debris is creating a lot of problems to the farmers immediately now and it will also have long-term consequences. However, the government has not allocated any budget for the debris. Even as the farmers are demanding compensation for the loss of crops and left-out earthquake debris heaps are creating the problem, the government is ignorant about it. Charirkot has taught a lesson on how unmanaged debris can create problems in the life of the people.

With the neglect from officials and lack of resources, earthquake debris is slowing killing the prospects of people, mainly their sources of livelihood. Although there is a growing realization for safe disposal of hazardous and non-hazardous debris, it may be getting a little too late.

This publication has been supported by The Asia Foundation. The contents of this publication reflect the views of the author(s), researcher(s), and contributing editor(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Asia Foundation.

PDF File of Earthquake investigation story 19-29.pdf



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Waste dumped Near community forestry

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Waste dumped near charikot

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Waster dumped at fertile land

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Nirashi Thami

Journalist based in Charikot covering various contemporary issues.

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