TODAY -

Landslides: Natural phenomena or human-induced?
- The Sangai Express Editorial :: August 26 2015 -



After an entire village was swept away by landslides in Chandel district killing ten people, Imphal-Dimapur highway remains cut off till today.

Not only Imphal-Dimapur highway, Imphal-Moreh highway has been severely damaged while Kasom Khullen sub-division of Ukhrul district was completely isolated from other parts of the State for weeks after the Thoubal-Kasom Khullen road was disconnected by landslides, fissures and sinking.

Left without any access to the outside world, people of Kasom Khullen sub-division were compelled to barter whatever things they had amongst themselves in accordance to the immediate requirements of each household and individual.

At present, almost 250 m long section of Imphal-Dimapur highway has been blocked by earth and mud that slipped from hill slopes at Pesama, Nagaland following heavy rainfall in the past four/five days.

More often than not, people blame nature or more precisely seasonal rainfall for the chronic problem called landslides and its impacts on mankindís socio-economic life.

The damages done by torrential rain and resultant landslides are so severe this time.

According to a tentative estimate made by the State PWD, repairing and re-construction of Mao-Imphal-Moreh highway would require Rs 99.5 crore.

Whereas annual rainfall rate has been declining, incidence of landslides has been rising year after year. This is one area which needs a thorough study.

If the rainfall rate is declining, it would not be entirely correct to put the blame on nature alone.

Do mankind and their anthropocentric activities have any role in the rising frequency and severity of landslides?

The same question applies to droughts and floods, often termed natural calamities.

When mankind has been disrupting and disturbing every natural chain and cycle, it would not be very much appropriate to call floods, droughts and landslides as entirely natural phenomena.

Technical evaluations and scientific studies have identified several factors for the increasing incidence of landslides in different parts of the planet including North East India.

Landslides occur more frequently in areas with steep slopes and highly erodible soils, clayey sub-soils or weathered bedrock, usually following intense and prolonged precipitation or earthquakes.

Then what makes soils highly erodible? One obvious answer is deforestation.

Human intervention like deforestation may cause the soil to lose its capacity and ultimately lead to landslides during heavy rainfall.

Hill slopes in the Himalaya are known for instability due to ongoing tectonic activity.

However, increasing anthropogenic intervention in the recent time appears to be contributing to terrain instability in addition to natural factors.

Cutting hill slopes for widening highways is one form of human intervention which has been contributing to landslide-triggering factors.

The tragedy is that lumbering is one principal, common economic activity in most parts of the North East. Not all deforestation is intentional.

Some is caused by a combination of human and natural factors like wildfires and subsequent overgrazing, which may prevent the growth of young trees.

Modernization minus industrial or economic growth, primitive methods of agriculture, lack of awareness and myopic state policies are the principal factors responsible for the fast depleting natural resources and the unprecedented scale of ecological imbalance in Manipur.

The continued practice of slash-and-burn agriculture by a sizeable section of the hill people needs deeper analysis in the face of the devastating landslides.

Despite the devastating effect on environment and ecology, the State never bothers to transfer the shifting cultivators to another source of livelihood or replace it with other income generating occupations.

Landslides or for that matter droughts and floods are no longer entirely natural phenomena. Mankind and its anthropocentric activities have also been contributing a lot.

Given these facts, the issue of landslides, floods and droughts need a long term plan backed up by the required quantum of political will.



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