Landslides in South Asia: Are humans to blame?
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Landslides in South Asia: Are humans to blame?

Search landslides+India on Google News and you will find countless headlines of flooding, death tolls and missing people – just in the past 24 hours.


rescue workers in Darjeeling, pic: Kumarrakajee (Wikimedia Commons)

Landslides and flash floods have killed 35 so far in Uttarkashi in the northern Indian state of Uttarakhand. Nagaland has also been seriously affected by heavy rains and mudslides.

This is to be somewhat expected during monsoon season in a huge, densely populated nation like India. The climate and conditions also make landslides and flash floods a less than rare occurrence in the neighboring countries of Pakistan, Nepal and Afghanistan as well as in parts of Bangladesh.

Normally expected events or not, landslides are on the rise in South Asia (especially in the Hindu Kush Himalayas region) with an increase in deaths, displacements and property destruction.

According to scientists, human activity is to blame for the recent increase.

In recent years, landslides have displaced more people in Nepal than any other type of natural disaster. Damage was especially heavy last year, when at least 150 people died due to the phenomenon. Just last month both Bangladesh and Afghanistan experienced heavy casualties due to landslides (110 and 80 deaths, respectively). 300 people were also trapped on a highway in Tibet because of a landslide there.

Besides natural factors like changing rainfall patterns and geological stresses, human activity is believed to be contributing to landslides and their increasing frequency.


2008 landslide, Nepal, pic: Nyaya Health

From BBC News:

Scientists […] agree that human activities like deforestation, road construction and agriculture terracing on mountain slopes have also significantly contributed to an increase in landslips.

Climate change may also be influencing peak rainfall intensities in the region, thereby affecting “natural” causes of landslides in South Asia.

Scientists have even explored possible links between human activity, climate change and their effects on earthquakes.

From a 2010 piece in the Guardian:

Experts say global warming could affect geological hazards such as earthquakes because of the way it can move large amounts of mass around on the Earth’s surface. Melting glaciers and rising sea levels shift the distribution of huge amounts of water, which release and increase pressures through the ground.

Landslides also caused serious death and destruction in other parts of the Asia Pacific region back in 2010, with major events in the Philippines (in connection with Typhoons Ketsana and Basyang), Indonesia, Taiwan, Australia, and China’s southwestern region where hundreds died.