The Human Impact

Deadly Indian landslide may have been a man-made disaster

A resident looks at the debris of her damaged house after a landslide at Malin village in Maharashtra

landslide in western India that has killed more than 100 people and left scores missing may have been a man-made disaster caused by deforestation to make way for farming, experts say.

Hopes of finding survivors are fading after heavy rains triggered Wednesday’s landslide, burying dozens of homes in the village of Malin in India’s Maharashtra state.

While the blame falls on India’s crucial yet often deadly monsoons – which annually trigger landslides and floods – geologists and environmentalists said the tragedy was avoidable.

“There are two types of landslides: naturally-induced and human-induced. The current landslide is possibly due to human activities like farming and road construction,” geologist Satish Thigale was quoted as saying by the DNA newspaper in India.

Environmentalists blame a government income generation scheme that required hill slopes to be flattened and thousands of trees to be felled.

Death in “Dev Bhoomi” – Disaster in Hinduism’s holiest place

Prakash Kabra recites his elder brother’s mobile number and I carefully tap it into my phone – already knowing the response, but still with a naïve sense of hope.

“The number you are calling is either switched off or unreachable at the moment. Please try again later,” says the automated reply.

It’s a response Prakash has heard countless times over the last six weeks. Yet he continues to call, hoping against hope that his brother – missing since deadly floods and landslides devastated India’s Himalayas – will answer.

The night the rain fell: Living in fear in India’s Himalayas

I didn’t sleep a wink that night.

It poured and poured and didn’t seem to let up. I could hear it crashing down relentlessly. It was so loud that I had to get out of bed to check whether the window of my hotel room was open. It wasn’t.

The pitch blackness outside didn’t help to allay my anxiety. All I could hear was the thunderous noise of the rain beating down and rushing waters of the Alaknanda River on the banks of which my hotel in the Indian Himalayas was located.

Being the Twitter-freak I am, I shared my discomfort with the rest of the world.

Heroes and politicians, Indian floods show the good, bad and ugly

What many journalists and aid workers say is true – it is only in times of crisis, such as disasters and war, that you observe the best and worst of humanity.

In displacement camps where survivors have fled, for example, a cyclone which has flattened their village or a raging insurgency which has killed their loved ones, amid stories of pain and suffering, you will often hear incredible accounts of survival and hope.

It is no different in India.

In the two weeks since deadly floods hit the Himalayan state of Uttarakhand, there have been tales of young children being rescued by strangers, of local shopkeepers opening up kitchens to feed hundreds of marooned survivors, and of the tireless work of army, air force and other service personnel who have evacuated over 100,000 people by land and air in the largest ever rescue operation in India. Tragically, they lost 20 men when a helicopter crashed during the operation.

India’s drought: A natural calamity or a man-made one?

It’s that “Will they? Won’t they?” time of year in India. The annual monsoon season is due and – given that the country’s mostly rain-fed agriculture makes up 15 percent of gross domestic product, with hundreds of millions of Indians dependent on it – these rains are a serious business.

Before its onset in June, right through the end of the season in September, we track the monsoon’s trajectory, pore over data, question forecasters, speak to pundits – all in hope of getting an accurate analysis on whether India will receive timely and adequate rainfall.

This year, initial forecasts predict an average amount of rainfall.

However, for some states like India’s drought-hit western regionof Maharashtra, even if the rains are plentiful, it won’t solve itswater crisis.

A devastating fire displaces an already displaced population

In early March, I visited two refugee camps along the Thai-Myanmar border to report on the challenges facing refugee women and girls and was struck by the enthusiasm of students I met in Ban Mae Surin, a camp set in a remote but picturesque setting along the Mae Surin river.

The students were part of the Karenni Further Studies Programme and were rehearsing a group dance for International Women’s Day celebrations on March 8.

On that day, they learnt the dance moves for a song that calls for the elimination of violence against women and girls. Despite the sweltering afternoon heat, the four dozen or so students – and some alumni – practised non-stop.

India’s growing global humanitarian role: Is it enough?

India is increasingly seen as an important player when it comes to supporting nations hit by disasters or conflict, as well as for development, but given its size and influence, is it really doing enough to help resolve global crises?

Many, like the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), think not, especially when it comes to addressing humanitarian issues at an international level.

“I am of the very strong opinion that India – which has an enormous influence due to its population, economic growth and history – will have to play a more assertive role in the world,” Yves Daccord, ICRC director general, told AlertNet recently.

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