Ahsan Ul Haq Malik
It was in the month of September 2014 exactly five years ago when the flood hit the Jammu and Kashmir particularly the Kashmir valley killing 300 people of Kashmir valley and 50 from the Jammu division. On the night of 5th September 2014, on Friday the people of the village Sadal of Tehsil Panchari, district Udhampur slept at their homes but could not awake. Next day around 4:30 am the entire village comprising of 45 houses were devastated, killing 41 people and 500+ domestic animals due to a massive landslide. The slide also destroyed government school, a road, and stream channel burying than under some 30 feet of rafted rock fragments mud, sludge and rubble. The men, women and school children who lost their lives should never be forgotten. It is truly a heart-breaking moment in our history. A whole generation of adults and grandparents were denied the chance to see their children grow up. They endured unimaginable sorrow but maintained a community spirit and built a support network within the village which helped them to overcome their ordeal. In all, the September 2014 flood caused the death of 350 persons of the ages between 10 to 70 years.
The Sadal landslide is one of the most catastrophic slope failures and is an outstanding and valuable reference case history for the study and analysis of the complex instability mechanisms. The 5th anniversary of the calamity has arrived and about 70 percent of people from the disaster-hit village have yet to return to their own land and construct their permanent houses. They have no choice but to live on the similar slope due to lack of land and poverty above all.
Why the landslide in Udhampur district was so particularly dangerous is an important question? The answer lies with the historical account of the area. The knowledge of the past landslides also known as palaeo-landslides of an area is an important parameter to build houses in the dangerous slide-prone area like the area in the discussion. In fact, it is up to the responsible citizens to apply conventional approaches to reach some sort of land-planning in the rural areas, as the government has not adopted the sufficient land-planning regulations or guidelines governing the risks of building and living in a natural landslide prone area. The fragile rocks of this area and in fact the rocks of the belt, Rajouri-Poonch-Bani-Bhasoli are prone to the landslide during excessive rainfall. These rocks are composed of sandstone and maroon colour friable mudstone which on absorbing the water act as a lubricant and swell. Each layer of these rocks behaves differently when it comes in contact with water and cause the displacement of rock blocks against each other. So, it is important to check the seepage of water from the slopes which apparently cause the slope failures. Our detailed multidisciplinary scientific study suggests that the Sadal village had witnessed a massive landslide in the past which was also argued by elders of the village. Above all, the first priority is to save human lives, but the calamity was so sudden that it had not given the time to respond. This was, of course, the worst documented landslide disaster in Jammu and Kashmir. There is a fundamental humanitarian duty to assist during an emergency. The adjoining villagers, local administration and we (The research team from the department of Geology, University of Jammu) had visited the site and recommended the immediate measures to come out of the problems.
It is a well-known fact that landslide cannot be prevented from occurrence but timely action can minimize its impact. Modern technology can smartly be used for preparedness as the excessive rainfall is the basic ingredient to the slope failures, the process which causes landslides. Therefore advance information about approaching rain is important in predicting landslides. At this moment it is not reliable to have landslide susceptibility map of the whole Jammu and Kashmir, although we have susceptibility map for some important areas. However, if the available weather data from weather app installed in our android mobile phone is used skilfully we can put effective disaster management into effect before the event occurs. It’s okay to be upset, but we shall have to move on and if we think that we can move on.
(The author is a Ph.D research scholar at the Department of Geology University of Jammu.)
Ahsan Ul Haq Malik