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Massive landslide Hits Kishtwar, research reveals Increasing Landslide Vulnerability

A huge landslide has blocked the Kishtwar-Paddar road in Jammu and Kashmir, isolating over 50 villages. Efforts to clear the debris are underway, but limited resources hinder progress. Climate change exacerbate the risk of landslides in the region

By Ground report
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Massive landslide Hits Kishtwar, research reveals Increasing Landslide Vulnerability

Heavy landslide near Patharnaki suspends vehicle movement in Kishtwar.

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A huge landslide has blocked a major road in Jammu and Kashmir's Kishtwar district, causing local problems. The landslide occurred on Sunday near Patharnaki on the Kishtwar-Paddar road, forcing suspension of vehicular movement and isolating many villages. Telecommunication systems and power supply have been badly affected due to the damage.

The recent rain caused a landslide blocking an essential road for over 50 villages. The local officials are trying to clear the debris, against the impossible odds. District Development Council (DDC) member Hari Krishna, told Ground Report the gravity of the situation,

"The situation seems impossible. No work is being done, and resources are very limited. The area is falling apart due to the new double bridge construction. Cutting into the hill for the bridge caused the upper bridge to collapse. The telecommunication systems and power supply have been restored." 

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Krishna said there are about 50 villages in the area, with 22 villages directly affected.

"People are walking, instead of driving. Over a thousand people, including religious pilgrims, are walking for one and a half hours. Local Police, Border Roads Organisation (BRO) team might clear the landslide soon. They'll work as fast as they can, but it will take about two days. We have brought in smaller machinery due to space constraints, and efforts are being made to expedite the process. I urge all travelers to be patient as the administration works to reopen the road."

A local journalist Ashish Chouha told Ground Report,

“Work has started on both sides of the landslide to open one lane by tomorrow evening. The road is blocked, affecting 51 villages in the Paddar area, and cutting off the population from the country."

Past landslides have caused fatalities

The landslides have caused regular mayhem in the region. In April this year, In Kishtwar district, three days of continuous rainfall caused landslides that damaged six houses.

Web Thumb (3)A huge landslide has blocked a major road in Jammu and Kashmir's Kishtwar district, causing local problems.
A huge landslide has blocked a major road in Jammu and Kashmir's Kishtwar district, causing local problems.

In 2023, a landslide in the same area killed over 287 sheep near Ishtari, as shepherds were moving their flocks through the mountains. Shepherd Kulbant Singh said,

"We were walking through the mountains, unaware of the danger above us. Suddenly, without any warning, a huge landslide came down without warning, burying many of our sheep under rocks and dirt."

In June 2023, two workers died in a landslide in the Sumbal area of Kishtwar while widening a road. To understand why landslides keep happening here, Ground Report spoke to Ajay Kumar Taloor, a professor at Jammu University who studies landslides and explained:

“I think there are several reasons why the Kishtwar region has so many landslides. First, there are a lot of earthquakes. Second, the ground in the region is unstable. Third, many water reservoirs can cause landslides. And fourth, the slopes and rocks in the area are naturally unstable."

Professor Taloor also pointed out that construction work might be exacerbating the situation. "The big machines used for construction can shake the ground and make it less stable, especially in a mountainous area," he said.

Study identifies high landslide risks

A recent study examined landslide risks in the region using special maps and computer systems to identify high-risk areas in the Doda, Kishtwar, and Ramban districts. 

Researchers say many factors affect landslide risk, such as slope steepness, precipitation, soil and rock types, infrastructure placement, and more. Heavy machinery and traffic vibrations can loosen the soil and rocks, increasing the likelihood of a landslide.The study finds that areas within 50 metres of roads, particularly on steep slopes, are prone to landslides due to road construction cutting into hillsides, exposing rocks and soil to weathering. 

Climate change increases Himalayan landslides

Climate change is increasing extreme weather, leading to more landslides in the Himalayan region. Local and national government officials need to make long-term plans to reduce landslide risks. 

A 2020 study by the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) in Delhi reveals that climate change is causing heavy rainfall and destabilising steep slopes with loose soil worldwide. In India, approximately 73% of landslides in the Himalayas are due to heavy precipitation and rainfall infiltration. The IIT researchers identified two additional factors indirectly linked to rainfall: water drawdown, which triggers 2% of landslides, and soil erosion, accounting for 14%.

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Major landslide near Patharnaki halts traffic and isolates villages in Kishtwar

Three-quarters of annual rain in the Himalayas arrives during the monsoon season from June to September, bringing sudden and extremely intense cloudbursts that affect relatively small areas. Climate change is making these cloudbursts and other forms of heavy rainfall more intense and frequent in the Himalayan foothills, saturating the slopes more often and making them unstable. 

A study published in prominent journals found that the majority, or 69%, of research on landslides in India is concentrated in the Western Himalayan region, including Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, and Uttarakhand.

The Kishtwar situation is a stark reminder of the challenges faced by mountainous communities. It emphasises the need for investment in infrastructure, disaster preparedness, and environmental protection. As the region deals with the immediate aftermath, it sparks conversations about long-term development in disaster-prone areas. The local officials are working hard to clear the landslide and reopen the road. But fixing the problem for good will require more studies of the land, better construction methods, and community preparedness for future landslides.

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