KATHMANDU, August 17: Experts and environmentalists have blamed a host of man-made problems including deforestation, sand and gravel mining along the Chure region for the devastating impacts of the monsoon-induced disaster in the tarai.
The flood and landslides triggered by delayed monsoon rains that started last week have created mayhem in nearly all districts of the tarai, affecting over six million people. At least 125 people have been confirmed dead as on Wednesday evening, according to Ministry of Home Affairs (MoHA).
Experts and environmentalists said that such disaster is likely to recur more frequently if the authorities continue to turn a blind eye to the exploitation of the Chure region.
Chure range, which are the youngest hills formed by the deposition of the river products around 40 million years ago, covers 12.78% of the total land of Nepal. The range extends up to the Indus River in Pakistan to the west and Bharamaputra River of India to the east.
But the entire Chure hill is under threat due to gradual surge in mining of sand, gravel and limestone, stone quarrying and haphazard construction of physical infrastructures like dams and embankments.
"Chure is interlinked with the livelihoods of the people in the tarai. A vast majority of people here are dependent on it. Chure exploitation is one important reason why much of the tarai plains has faced inundation," said Binod Bhatta, who led a team that formulated a master plan for Chure conservation. Chure Conservation is one of the national pride projects and is headed by the president. The government has been spending millions of rupees every year through the President Chure-Tarai Madhes Conservation Programme that has been carrying out various activities in 29 districts of the tarai and inner tarai.
In the fiscal year 2016-17, the government had allocated Rs 1.88 billion for President Chure Tarai-Madhes Conservation Programme.
Bhatta was quick to point out that several other factors including climate change are equally responsible for the disaster alongside manmade problems. He said that deforestation and mining had contributed in the erosion of soil and exhausted the soil's ability to absorb water. Several researches have shown that forests play important role in preventing floods and landslides.
Prem Prasad Paudel, an expert on Chure who was also involved in drafting the master plan, said that Chure exploitation has posed serious threat to the existence of tarai in its present state. He said that the government apathy in stopping the booming stone quarrying emerged as the single biggest threat to Chure.
"The stone quarrying along the northern face of Chure hills have weakened Chure while simultaneously turning the agricultural lowland into deserts," said Paudel. With human activities affecting regular flows of the rivers, even small rivers have been inviting big challenges for the people.
Experts and environmentalists said that the government can still do a lot to minimize the damage by strictly enforcing the existing plans and policies. They said that the government should immediately restrict extraction of natural resources from the region.
Chure is the major source for gravel and sand and timbers for booming construction in terai plains and parts of neighboring India. Increasing cement factories along the terai plains have is also reason for encroachment of Chure.
Despite devising several policies and pouring millions of every year, the government has achieved little success in stopping encroachment of Chure.
"People saw easy money to be in Chure and started digging out its very foundations. This monsoons we saw the Chure rubble swept away by the floods," said Bhatta.