KATHMANDU, Sept 24: Four months after an unusual flash floods on Seti River in Kaski swept away villages killing more than 75 people, at least nine people, mostly mountaineers, perished and dozens of others are missing in yet another natural disaster on Sunday.
The latest incident, a massive avalanche on Mt Manaslu, occurred when concerned experts have still not been able to find out what actually caused the flash floods in Kaski.
Although there are no advance research on the number of avalanches on the Himalayas in Nepal or there are insufficient scientific data, experts say they are ´surprised´ with the huge avalanche on Mount Manaslu, as, according to them, September is not the time for such big avalanches.
“It´s unusual because most avalanches generally occur in April and May," said Om Ratna Bajracharya, former chief, Snow and Glacier Hydrology section at the Department of Hydrology and Meteorology. But he is quick to say the country lacks enough scientific data on this phenomenon. "So we need to have rigorous research as avalanches have never been a priority in high altitude researches.”
Avalanches occur on the slopes above 30 degree and are usual above 5000 meters altitude, but in winter when there is heavy snowfall and the snowline drops low, avalanches could occur as low as 3000 meters above mean sea level, say experts. There are less than 10 automatic weather stations in high altitude areas across the country and there is no regular snowfall measurement.
As there are also no settlements in high altitude areas and casualties are rare, avalanches are normal phenomena in the mountains which go largely unnoticed by the larger section of the population.
“It´s hard to conduct research on avalanche as we do not have enough fund and time to undertake rigorous study on snow," said Rijan Bhakta Kayastha, coordinator of the Himalayan Cryosphere, Climate and Disaster Research Center, Kathmandu University. "So, we have not focused on avalanches even in our research works on glaciers and glacial lakes.”
There are only five staffs to look into the issues of glaciers and glacial lakes in the Department of Hydrology and Meteorology (DHM). “There are no incentives to researchers who want to go to high altitude putting their lives at risk. If you go on government´s daily allowance you can´t even have a proper meal, so who is going to take the risk,” added Bajracharya.
He added that even the director general of the department cannot assign field trips for more than a week, and if needed, the researchers must take approval from the secretary at the ministry of Environment, Science and Technology.
“High altitude research works may take years and researchers have to spend months in the areas but research works have never been the priority of the government,” said Bajracharya.
There was heavy snowfall in the high altitude a week ago and after that there was scorching sun for a week. When the loose accumulated snow starts melting, it slips off from the hard ice mass lying underneath causing avalanche.
“There should be rigorous study on the avalanches, as areas most vulnerable to such events need to be mapped in order to reduce casualty in the future,” said Kayastha.