THOUSANDS of people still struggling for survival in the aftermath of the devastating earthquakes in the Everest region face a new danger as the monsoon season approaches and their temporary encampments come under threat from potentially deadly landslides.
Nearly 9,000 people died after the 7.8-magnitude quake struck the Himalayas on 25 April – 19 were killed in avalanches on the world’s tallest mountain.
A further 19,000 were injured in the worst natural disaster to hit Nepal in 80 years.
Whole villages were wiped off the map, leaving around half a million people homeless.
Another quake, of magnitude 7.3, shook the area just a couple of weeks later, causing further chaos in a country already crippled by the scale of destruction from the initial event.
Now a team of international scientists is working with the Nepalese government in an emergency mission to identify those most at risk and plan an urgent evacuation to safer areas before the onset of the rainy season later this month. “It has been inspiring seeing the level of global collaboration that has gone on since the earthquake, but we are not finished with the disaster story yet,” Dr David Molden, director general of the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development, said.
The mountain and hydrology specialist was in Scotland last week to speak at the World Water Congress, which has been held in the UK for the first time this year.
Dr Molden and his geo-hazards task force have already identified 3,000 landslides, avalanches and rockfalls caused by the recent seismic activity.
Their research shows the landscape has shifted and loosened and now poses a significant threat of being dislodged as the country is lashed by three months of heavy downpours.
The team’s first priority is to pinpoint the places where people are most at risk and highlight possible safe havens where new camps can be set up.
“The monsoon is coming up in June and we have an area with all these steep slopes that have been undermined,” Dr Molden said. “We have people without shelter, living in tents and under tarpaulins.
“You can’t rebuild during monsoon – it is too wet. People are camping in very steep-sided mountain valleys and they are in grave danger.
“The earth has been shaken up and destabilised, so when the rain comes we are likely to see more dangerous landslides.
“What we are doing now as a matter of urgency is identifying the most hazardous areas and warning people to evacuate.”
Aid agencies from around the world have been helping supply food, shelter and clean water to survivors of the disaster, but time and nature are against them.
“The evacuation has not yet begun,” Dr Molden said. “Right now, it’s about getting the best possible information together. There are so many things that need to be done in such a short period of time.
“It’s not over yet. We have the threat of all these landslides., Then, a bit further in the future, the landslides can block rivers and create lakes, which can burst and cause dreadful flooding.”