Bara-Parsa Tornado: Reconstruction and Lessons

On September 16, my friends and I attended the third lecture series organized by Nepalese Society of Engineering Geologists (NSEG) at the National Academy of Science and Technology (NAST). The first lecture of the series included a presentation titled, “Bara-Parsa Post Tornado Reconstruction—An Overview”. Lt. Col. Shrijan Bahadur Malla, the leader of the Parsa Karyadal (“Karyadal” translates to “task force/group”), showed through a series of slides the effects of tornado, the government’s response and the Nepal Army’s effort in accomplishing a near-impossible task within the given time-frame.

What had happened at Bara and Parsa? 

Between 7: 45 to 8: 15 PM, March 31, 2019 (Jestha 17, 2076), a storm swept through several villages of Parsa and Bara districts of Nepal. The reports that came since puzzled the scientists as such a wide range of destruction had never been reported before. The winds had travelled 90 km (30 km of which was observed from the satellite images) within 30 minutes, uprooted trees, overturned trucks and completely damaged some masonry buildings. The winds were stronger than what was usually observed. They had to dig deeper into what had actually happened.

Department of Hydrology and Meteorology (DHM) had observed the possibility of rainfall in the area, but due to lack of resources, had not been able to predict the nature of the storm. On the other side of the border, India Meteorological Department (IMD) had issued a warning against “chakravaat”. However, there was no official information exchange between the DHM and IDM. So, we were completely unaware of what was about to come.  

A week later, the Department of Hydrology and Meteorology (DHM) confirmed it was a tornado, with intensity up to F2 and F3 (180-332 km/hr) on the Fujita Scale. The actual speed could not be determined. The tornado had generated at the Chitwan National Park and had travelled eastwards, reaching a maximum width of 200 m and destroying everything that came in its way. Bharbalia, Parwanipur, and Pheta villages of Bara suffered the worst. 28 people died (according to the official report), about 1200 people sustained injuries, and around 1450 houses were destroyed. Farmers also suffered the loss of crops and livestock.

Was it the first ever tornado that occurred in Nepal?

Most media and even among the scientists, the event was discussed as the first ever tornado occurring in the Nepali territory. However, as someone with roots in the Terai, and having heard accounts of hard-hitting storms from the past, I don’t believe it was the first ever tornado. Still, it is the first time, a tornado event has been recorded and studied scientifically. To confirm this further, I would like to quote from Kiran Nepal from his article in the Nepali Times:

“The tornado was not the first of its kind in Nepal. In fact, literature and folklore speak of twisters ravaging Tarai villages. But because these are localised disasters, they did not make it to the news.”

(Ground zero in Pheta)

Response to the crisis

Government of Nepal made a quick response. Rescue teams were immediately employed. On April 1, the Government declared a state of emergency in the affected area. Nepalese Army then got involved in the rescue and relief operation. All three levels of Government—the Federal, Province No. 2 and Local Governments—worked together to manage the relief works, and to rehabilitate the affected people before the Monsoon hit them hard again.

So, the Local Government brought up all the data necessary for the reconstruction process, the Provincial Government facilitated the smooth operation, and the Federal Government asked the Nepalese Army to complete the task as soon as possible. On April 26, it was declared that the Nepalese Army would be involved in the construction of new houses under the Janata Aawas Kaaryakram (People’s Housing Programme).

Challenges to the Nepalese army

Lt. Col. Malla provided his first-hand experience on the challenges the Nepalese Army had to face.

1. Timeframe. The task had to be completed within 3 months. The Local Governments had enlisted a total of 884 houses to be constructed. All the construction had to be parallel. They needed a lot of construction materials, required large areas to heap them until the construction. The need for human resources was also paramount.

2. Weather Condition. The summer was in its peak. The temperatures reached more than 40 degrees Celsius during the day time. Winds blew from time to time, destroying the temporary shelters, and floods delayed the construction.

3. Health Issues and Snake Bites. Heatstroke is among the common health issue in the summer. Flu is another illness that can occur because of the cold sweat drenching your clothes and skin. There is also high risk of malaria and Kala-Azar. Snake bites are also frequent occurrences. Lt. Col. Malla reported incidents of flu and snake bites.

4. Socio-poilitical issues. When huge reconstruction work is at hand, most families separate so that they can enjoy the compensation provided. The number of victims fluctuated frequently and even at the end, there were issues related to citizenship and land-ownership.

How did the army complete the task?

Nepalese Army was provided with the design of houses by the Department of Urban Housing. The design had two rooms, the frame and trusses were to be made from bamboo. The Army changed it slightly. They added a verandah and a toilet. And instead of bamboo, they would use steel.

With the design in hand, they had to look for huge amounts of construction material. The government had eased the process by letting the Army buy directly from the market (instead of the usual bidding process). The contractors for construction materials were chosen such that they could supply the materials required without any corruption and commission.

Since the task was labour intensive, they required to hire a huge labour force. It was convenient to use the troops themselves. The Army personnel were divided into the highly-skilled, skilled and semi-skilled and the work division was done accordingly. They worked in shifts from 6 to 10 o’clock in the morning and 4 to 8 o’clock in the evening.

There were some hurdles, as state in the section above. Nepalese Army went through and helped themselves and the victims. They worked as smoothly as they could. Finally, 869 of 884 houses were completed by the end of August. The remaining 15 houses were not built due to the issues such as citizenship and land ownership. These houses were handed over to their respective owners officially on 4th September.

Lessons Learnt

At the end of the presentation Lt. Col. Malla presented a list of lessons learnt from the Bara-Parsa Tornado event. I have added some by myself.

1. Improvement in Weather Forecasts. The DHM and IMD are now working together to identify such disasters. The weather forecasts are also becoming increasingly reliable.

2. Where there is will, there are ways. The government’s response was quick. The Army was given the rights to final decision on the construction. The buying of essential construction materials was made easier. All there levels of government came together. The tiff between the Federal Government and the Province-2 Government did not affect the victims.

3. Enhancement of the capacity of the Nepalese Army. From all sort of labour-intensive work to planning and design, the Army has grown stronger, Lt. Col. Malla stated with pride.

4. Goodwill among the people. All the government bodies, and especially the Nepalese Army won the hearts of the people affected by the tornado.

5. Civil authorities need to play important roles in future disasters. As he concluded, Lt. Col. Malla said that Nepalese Army cannot do all the reconstruction work by themselves in the future. Though he was proud of what the Army had been able to do, it is the task of civil authorities to actually involve in the disaster prevention, risk reduction and reconstruction. Thus, they must be prepared to provide relief, and for rehabilitation and reconstruction in the aftermath.

Conclusion

The presentation brought out a sense of joy and pride in everyone present in the seminar hall. It helped us understand what actually happens during the reconstruction. It’s one thing to read and say, one should do this and that. But listening it from someone who has had first-hand experience in the act, we knew how difficult the task is. And how it feels to see smiling faces as the hard work comes to fruition.

Many thanks to the Government! Salute to the Nepalese Army!!

References

https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-019-01159-w

https://myrepublica.nagariknetwork.com/news/nepal-army-constructs-869-houses-for-tornado-victims-of-bara-parsa/

https://myrepublica.nagariknetwork.com/news/na-hand-over-houses-to-tornado-hit-bara-and-parsa-people/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/March_2019_southern_Nepal_tornado

On Scientific Inquisition

We humans have always been guided by two fundamental systems: Faith and Science. Faith implores us to live life as it is and accept what comes in life as the will of God or fate. It has its own pros and cons, which I shall not discuss here. Science, on the other hand, urges us to transcend the boundaries that are created by our surrender to the fate. The advancement in medicine and technology is the result of inquisitive minds who studied the nature and imagined what else they could do with the knowledge they gained. They also disseminated the knowledge they obtained so that it would not be lost with time.

Suppression of knowledge and scientific inquisition in Europe during the Middle Age (5th to15th century) led to numerous wars, widespread famine and submission to fate. During this period in the history of humanity, also known as the Dark Age, several scientific discoveries are said to have lost. Scientists were termed “heretics” by the Church and were executed. The Renaissance Period, of which the Republic of Florence and Leonardo da Vinci are central, gave rise to art and through it, promotion of scientific discoveries, inventions and rediscoveries.

In the ancient Indian sub-continent (most of the times attributed to the Indus Valley Civilization), the Vedas and Upavedas, and later the Upanishads promoted the culture of scientific and logical discourse. Proverb such as Vaade Vaade Jaayate Tatwabodha (वादे वादे जायते तत्वबोध:), i.e. knowledge is gained through debates is alone sufficient to understand the importance of discourses in order to discover the truth of the world. The knowledge however came under the control of few people on the administration for centuries. The lack of effective dissemination of the ancient wisdom has created a lot of problems in the sub-continent.

Scientific discoveries have made things possible that were treated only as imagination in the past. The discovery of sea-routes brought people closer, the invention of aeroplane reduced the time for the journeys between different parts of the world, the invention of telegraph and telephone changed the way messages were shared. On the basic principles of navigation, aerodynamics and telecommunication, the humanity has moved from the Age of Cultivation to Age of Global Communication.

Not just that, humanity has also given up the instant submission to fate. In the Dark Age, Black Plague killed thousands of people in Europe. Venice, because of the lack of burial grounds, suffered the most. Instead of contemplating that the disease was spreading through the canals, they believed they were suffering the wrath of God and their loss was God’s will. In the modern age, humans do not readily submit to Faith when they encounter diseases. They investigate the disease, their causes and work on the vaccines and inoculation.

As students of Geology, a branch of science, we have gained some fundamental knowledge about the Earth and how it works during the four-year B.Sc. programme. We have learnt to observe the rocks and soils, to ask what they are and why they are there. We have familiarized ourselves with the Earth processes and the benefits and the problems they bring. We have studied about natural hazards and some ways to mitigate them. We can strive to learn more and publicize what we know. We can make the world a better place.

There is no doubt that the Earthquake of 2072 B.S. (2015) gave rise to a mass awareness about how that particular earthquake occurred. Some people used to say, with much politicisation, “There are two plates: Indian and Chinese. The Indian plate moves to the North to encroach the Chinese plate. Nepal is in middle. That was why the earthquake occurred.”

While I myself tried to remove politics whenever I could, there is a mass of people who believe the above statement to be true. They are right that Nepal lies in between two plates. But most of them are not aware what “plate” really is and that the Earth’s lithosphere is made of a number of plates. As a student of Geology, I feel that we have a lot to do to make the public aware of what the plates are and how they are formed.

We, ourselves however should be ready to face skepticism. Science is not a belief system. Whenever scientists come across hypotheses and theories, they first question, “Is it true? What are the evidences?” A hypothesis can become a major theory if evidences support it. The theory of Plate Tectonics is a common example. If the evidences from submarine navigation and Paleomagnetic studies had not been available, the theory would still have remained a hypothesis. Similarly, if a new hypothesis can challenge and prove that it is stronger than an existing theory, the existing theory, even if popular, will be discarded.

Many people put a blame upon science for the problems we’ve been facing. Sure, guns and bombs have been developed by science and are being used to inflict terrors. Nuclear weapons have threatened the existence of our dear home itself. The knowledge of making explosives and harnessing nuclear energy was not bad itself. Gunpowder and dynamite were used in construction works, and nuclear energy has become an important source of energy in many nations. That’s why I firmly believe that it’s not science that is faulty. The fault is on our crooked desire of using knowledge that we have.

In short, as a student of science, I appeal to everyone to gain right knowledge from the nature, from each other and from what our ancestors have passed on to us. I urge everyone to deliver the knowledge to the public and to the generations to come. Because only with the right knowledge, we the make the world a better place.

[The above article was intended to be the editorial for GEOWORLD Students’ Magazine, Vol. 8, 2017. It was heavily cut in the magazine for the sake of relevance and space]

Environmental Sustainability, Evolution and Natural Selection

Truly. We are the fittest species till date but if we mess up with the nature that we have to live in, no adaptation, no survival instinct can save us.

Sustainable Safety Solutions, NEPAL

Environmental conservation and its sustainability have been increasingly important issue throughout the world. The ecology friendly environment is one of the burning needs of today’s world if we want to sustain the human species and the quality of living on this planet. Although the effects of the human on the environment may not be clearly seen in day to day life, the accumulated impact over the time is quite evident. The ozone layer depletion, rapidly changing weather patterns and rising earth’s temperature are some of the obvious negative impacts caused by humanity.

Conservation of ecological system comes hand in hand with environmental sustainability. There are numerous known and unknown factors which help preserve a sound ecological system of which we human are just a small part. Every part of the ecosystem is equally important for every species in it to live and thrive in harmony, call it environment if you…

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सम्पदा स‍ंरक्षणको अद्‌भूत नमूना : ठाउँ नै सारेर पनि यसरी जोगाइयो — Mysansar

– सुबिक कार्की (इजिप्टबाट फर्केर) – गत वर्ष वैशाखको महाभूकम्पले नेपालका थुप्रै सम्पदा भत्किएका छन्। त्यसको पुननिर्माण अझै हुन सकेको छैन। सम्पदा संरक्षणको चिन्ता जागिरहेको बेला यहाँ म एउटा सम्पदा संरक्षणको अदभूत नमूना प्रस्तुत गर्दैछु। एघार देश भएर सुडानबाट इजिप्ट हुँदै भूमध्यसागरमा विसर्जन हुने संसारकै सबैभन्दा लामो नाइल नदीको इजिप्ट खण्डमा सन् १९५४ मा […]

via सम्पदा स‍ंरक्षणको अद्‌भूत नमूना : ठाउँ नै सारेर पनि यसरी जोगाइयो — Mysansar

Understanding Hazard, Risk, Vulnerability and Disaster- Through Football!

Last week I took a class of Engineering Geology (finally getting into something practically useful in the beginning of fourth year). I will give brief definitions and examples of the terms used. Then before you get bored, I will get into a funny way to remember the technical terms using football (soccer).

Prior to that class, I thought hazard and disaster were the same. However, technically, they are different. Let’s take a look at the definitions I studied.

Hazard: Probability of occurrence of an event or phenomenon which can damage lives and properties.

Disaster: The actual occurrence of a dangerous phenomenon which damages lives and property.

When seismologists say, “Nepal lies in a seismically active zone,” they are talking about the probable damages an earthquake can cause (hazard). When they talk about the damage caused by the earthquake in Nepal last year, they are saying something about disaster the earthquake brought up.

Let us also look at two more terms- risk and vulnerability.

Risk: The consequences in terms of “potential losses” for some particular cause, time and place. Specific risk is the product of hazard and vulnerability (Johnson and Degraff, 1988).

Vulnerability: The degree of risk a community is at due to various factors. For example, poor designing and construction of a house makes it vulnerable for a disaster and people living in it are at risk.

I am done with the definitions. Let’s use football- in particular, a famous footballer to understand the above defined terms. The footballer is (as you might already have realized) Eden Hazard.

E. Hazard is a hazard to his opponent team because he has the capacity to score a goal although he may not score in every match. In this match we are talking of, Hazard attacked several times but did not succeed. E. Hazard remained a hazard until 88th minute.

In the eighty-ninth minute of the match, when no goal has not yet occurred, E. Hazard gets a pass from his teammate and he dribbles ahead. His skill allows him to get through the defenders of opposition team. Their defence which had been vulnerable by previous attacks, is now exposed and is at a greater risk (due to the combined effects of Hazard and vulnerability) Hazard shoots and when the opponent goalkeeper cannot save the goal. Hazard has brought a disaster to his opposition. A draw would have made the opposition the league winner. But Hazard’s goal changes the equation. The other team is damaged psychologically.

Reduce Risk! Save Lives!!

Prey v/s Predator: An Easy Victory for Arachnid

Nature is brutally beautiful. It keeps us alive but does not let live forever. This is the story of  a battle in nature I witnessed on May 13.

Spring was gradually being replaced by summer. Every year during this time, in the evenings, we see these strange creatures. We call them ‘chhichimira’. I don’t know what it is but my parents used to tell that they are winged-ants. Because the queen and the  males fly to mate, it might be true, although I cannot surely say if ants mate during the evening or if a certain species follows the pattern. All I know is that they are attracted to light just like moths and they have extremely short life. They stick on to electric bulbs, fluorescent lamps and LED bulbs as well. They fly for about fifteen minutes and they shed their transparent wings; then fall off dead. I usually examine them at that stage and they do look like ants. But I haven’t seen any of them fly away alive (the saddest part). I will call them winged-ants for the sake of convenience.

That evening, I was sitting in my room bored after long hours of exam preparation. The curtains had been pulled down to avoid the entrance of insects (It’s compulsory during spring and summer.) because of which the room was getting hot. Two insects of the kind I have mentioned above came into the room, however. (Failure of the curtains!) I just kept staring at them as if there was no work to do. They danced up and down and around the LED bulb on the wall in front of me. As I was watching them, I noticed a small movement on the right. From behind the tube light (it was not being used at that time because of the power cut off), a spider, too had been watching the movements of the insects.

It turned out to be the smartest between them. As soon as one of the insects had flown upwards, the spider rushed (crawling on the wall) and pounced upon it. All these (from my first sight of the spider to its pouncing upon the helpless winged-ant) had happened within three seconds! I could not believe my eyes. I had seen an extraordinary sight. Yet I had presence of mind because I got the later struggled captured on my camera.

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The predator had grabbed the prey’s head. The prey wanted to get out. It flapped it’s wings for a while in vain. Sometime later, it gave up struggling and the spider started dragging its meal upwards. It was a difficult task. Firstly, it had to climb a vertical wall backwards carrying its prey. Secondly, the partner of the insect which had been pounced upon was luring the spider to drop its meal. The another winged-ant tried frantically to reach the spider but it never went very close. Two or three times, it had reached near the spider, I thought the spider would leave the one on its mouth and grab the other instead. But the spider did not leave the grip on its food. Neither did it give any attention to the second one. For it had flown for long already and its attempt (if I can call it, though it was nothing of the sort) of saving its friend had weakened it. After some minutes of it flight (the longest among these insects I have ever seen), it gave up. Most probably, it died.

Some more pics of the brutal predator and an almost dead prey.

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