Editorial

Urban sprawl encroaching the floodplains is costing us dear

Kathmandu

Jul 14, 2019-

The monsoon—vital for Nepal’s agricultural yield—has finally arrived. Unfortunately, it has left some places, mostly in the eastern and central parts of the country, in a shambles. Incessant rainfall over the last few days has created flash floods in Kathmandu and the plains with landslides mostly in the hilly region across the country, leaving 60 people dead as of 14th July. At least 26 people have gone missing. In the Tarai, thousands have been displaced from their homes as floodwaters rose in the rivers, inundating whole villages. This is a humanitarian catastrophe that calls for collective aid. But more importantly, it demands a deeper introspection, for these disasters are actually man-made, or at least made worse by poorly-planned infrastructure.

The harsh reality is that as human settlements have been interfering with the natural flow of the rivers, damaging the watershed ecosystem and obstructing drainage channels, flooding is bound to happen. Further, unmethodical road excavation along the mountains has interrupted natural seepage, causing landslides even after moderate rains.

Initial reports showed that 400 families in Morang and 35 families in Bara have been marooned. In Kathmandu, water flooded the Kalanki-Balkhu area. The urban sprawl led to encroachment of the floodplains of the Balkhu River. As a corollary, the course of the river was altered.

In the Tarai, non-stop rainfall has swelled the rivers charging down from the Chure range in provinces 1, 2 and 3. Over the years, there has been massive deforestation on the fragile Chure hills. The Chure forest, which once used to spread from Mahakali to Kailali, is today encroached upon by human settlements that have cut down the jungles by nearly half. Quite naturally then, uncontrolled deforestation has made the soil loose, making the areas around it susceptible to landslides.

Sclerotic urban planning compounded with reckless land use are the primary reasons for the severity of the floods witnessed in the last few years, but city governments have yet to learn a lesson from the devastation and losses that happen annually. One of the first things the government needs to do is prohibit construction near riverbanks if it is serious about not letting such an incident occur again. It is not that floodwaters have seeped into our households. Rather, we are getting in the way of the rivers. What’s more, in the Tarai, the Koshi Barrage is a ticking time bomb. While we know this and the deluge in the Tarai is a recurring problem, it seems this concerns us only when disaster strikes. Nationalistic claims problematising India’s holding the key to the barrage feature every year, but the fervour soon dies down, only for such sentiments to rise the next year when disaster hits again.

The recent deluge in the eastern and central parts of the country has thrown up a huge challenge for humans against nature. The land is scarce and the population is ever-growing, but unless the authorities concerned put an end to haphazard land use and laying concrete structures everywhere, rivers will keep making their way into our houses as it is us who have disrupted their natural route. 

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Published: 15-07-2019 06:00

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