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Landslides and floods cause misery in Nepal

Over 60 people have been killed by floods and landslides in Nepal and another 24 are missing after heavy monsoon rains have brought misery to parts of the country.

One tragedy involved the village of Purtikanda situated approximately 400km northwest of the capital in the Rukum district. The homes of over 30 families were destroyed in the village and 13 people died. Around 750 people have been evacuated from their homes in the district because of the ongoing threat of further landslides. An official from the government told Alertnet that some were being housed in “tented camps and in schools”, while others were staying with relatives.

Mountains and hills cover four-fifths of Nepal, where 82 per cent of the population live in rural areas, often in poorly constructed houses. Each year over 100 people die in landslides, which destroy more than 3,000 homes and result in a billion dollars worth of damage. Given the poverty of Nepal’s rural regions, communities often struggle to recover socially and economically. As the effects of climate change become more pronounced, erratic seasonal patterns and extreme weather events are likely to increase the number of such natural disasters.

Currently, the framework of Nepal’s government is more oriented towards disaster response and relief. But according to the United Nations country coordinator efforts are now being made to strengthen disaster management systems, particularly for highly vulnerable mountain regions. For example, a project is underway to expand the capabilities of the Nepal Department of Hydrology and Meteorology. Currently, this department is unable to give weather forecasts beyond 24 hours with acceptable accuracy. However, 1-5 day forecasts are seen as essential to providing early warning of extreme weather events. This would allow officials to make preparations and evacuate people at a district level.

And some advance activities are now taking place in Nepal. With heavy rains and rivers swelling from the melt of glacial lakes, relief and rescue workers have been put on standby in the east of Nepal and red flags have been placed along stretches of the Kosi river to warn of the potential threat of flooding. The country has also begun development of a pilot early warning system for floods.

With more than 6,000 rivers and streams across the country and soft soil covering the rugged mountainous areas, flooding and landslides are a constant hazard and it is impossible to prevent them. However, with better alerts to local communities, some tragic deaths may in the future be avoided.

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