The Financial Express

Effective management of landslides

| Updated: October 22, 2017 19:47:37

Effective management of landslides

At least 125 people, including six army personnel and children, were killed in separate incidents of hillslides triggered by heavy rains in Rangamati, Bandarban, and Chittagong districts on Tuesday (June 13, 2017).
Landslide is a geological hazard in Bangladesh, especially in the south-eastern part of the country. The Bay of Bengal branch of southwest monsoon flows over the Bay of Bengal heading towards northeast India and West Bengal, picking up more moisture from the Bay of Bengal from June through September. The winds arrive at the eastern Himalayas with large amounts of rain. Bangladesh and certain regions of India frequently experience heavy rains during this season. Most of the landslides happen after heavy rainfall. In recent times landslides have increased both in frequency and intensity, causing widespread loss and damage to life, infrastructures, assets and properties. This a poses serious challenges to existing development process. 
This increase in landslides has been prompted by a blend of several elements (morphometric, climatic and anthropogenic) that straight or secondarily cause slope instability, most of which are human induced. 
The landslide of June 11, 2007 caused death to 135 people, affecting 1.5 million people of the region. 
In 2015, heavy floods and landslides occurred during the last week of June in the districts of Chittagong, Bandarban and Cox's Bazar. A second period of heavy rain from 22-27 July caused new floods, landslides and further displacements. The secondary effect of Cyclone "Komen" was again heavy rainfall, causing additional landslides and flooding, which extended to all the coastal regions. 
A comprehensive action programme for reducing the risk of landslide through better knowledge and enhanced levels of understanding of the hazards and its management should be urgently undertaken.
In Chittagong region, many aspects of vulnerability to landslide hazards are observed, arising from various physical, social, economic, political and environmental factors. Vulnerability varies significantly within a community and over time. 
Comprehensive and well-coordinated steps are needed for a sustainable landslide hazard management for Bangladesh and its people. This hazard could be managed by controlling the grabbing of government-owned land and by understanding the rainfall pattern and its exact relationship with landslide in the region. Detailed land use planning of the vulnerable areas, a landslide database, landslide mapping and geophysical analysis of the region are essential to minimise landslides and their impacts in the region.  
It is quite normal that people in the over-populated Bangladesh live in hills. So it is obligatory upon the authorities to orient the people how to live in the hills. There should be proper attention to manage hills, secure hills against land slide, control land slide through proper drainage, protection, soil conservation, watershed management, etc. The vulnerable people and their associate service providers need to be supported to learn how to live/provide services in the hills without risk.
Early warning system needs to be strengthened, with active participation of community leaders. Proper linkage among the Metrological Department, community-based organisations, civil defence and local government authorities is needed to get regular data relevant to areas vulnerable to landslides, as soon as the rain/monsoon sets. Existing cross-departmental coordination and cooperation on landslide management should be reviewed and strengthened with necessary resources.
Contingency Planning at different levels for emergency response should be developed and updated at least once a year, focusing on (i) landslides risk area and vulnerability status and (ii) availability of resources and capacity, apart from other requisite elements that feature in such a plan. 
Capacity building courses on landslide hazard management is needed after a proper gap analysis and planning for volunteers, managers, workers, government officials, local government representatives, relevant military authority and media personnel of vulnerable districts. Women should be involved in the efforts. Specialised training sessions is needed for relevant personnel on the respective areas.
Landslide mitigation refers to lessening the effect of landslides by taking various projects at vulnerable slopes. Appropriate feasibility study, along with assessment of risk, uncertainty, possible consequences, constructability, environmental impacts and cost-benefit analysis by independent authorities, is very much needed for any mitigation measures. A public hearing and consultation is important in this regard. The maintenance requirements associated with each risk lessening option should be considered to understand the potential long-term effect and costs.
The Disaster Management Act and Standing Orders on Disasters (SOD) should be understood and exercised by all concerned with appropriate resources, planning, and monitoring and accountability mechanism.
The risk of landslides is one of the consequences of the incapability of political and administrative authorities to manage urban expansion. Consequently, the risks facing the urban poor remain unaddressed or partially addressed by relevant agencies. Measures to reduce landslide risks need to be integrated into area planning. In this regard, actors, including government and local government authorities, private sector, NGOs and individuals, have roles to play for ensuring compliance with land use and relevant policies and procedures, so that landslide risks are addressed when infrastructures are constructed on hillsides. 
It has been observed that mainly the poor people are living in the landslide-prone areas who cannot afford an alternative safer place to stay. Therefore, addressing poverty of the people should be considered as a priority for reducing their landslide related risk and vulnerability.
Special law and regulation is required to protect the hills by providing well-defined rules and conditions that need to be fulfilled during construction and any development work. Politically and socially powerful people in conjunction with corrupt officials are involved in hill-cutting, violating existing rules and regulations. Legal instruments should be in place and the enforcement of existing rules should be executed to manage risk-free hills.
China, Philippines, India, Indonesia, Nepal, Japan and USA manage the incidents of landslide on a regular basis. Sharing and learning experiences and cooperation with these countries could enhance the capacity of Bangladesh in managing landslide risk and related problem.

The writer is a development lawyer. farid.hasan2008@gmail.com

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