16 November 2010

A round up of interesting natural hazards stories – Taiwan landslides, the Pakistan floods, the Attabad landslide, and risk management in Canada

Posted by Dave Petley

Occasionally I post a round up of stories on natural hazards, mostly on landslides, that have caught my eye in the last few days.  Here is the latest set:

1. Taiwan landslide hazard management

Taiwan is one of the most landslide prone places on Earth as a result of its climate and geological setting. In the last 18 months it has suffered three high profile slope accidents – the extraordinary Hsiaolin (Shiaolin) landslide, the Highway 3 landslide and the recent typhoon accident on the Suhua Highway.  In response the government has finally passed a measure (it took 14 years to get this on the statute books!) to allow a national project to identify geologically sensitive areas, and then to regulate their development.  This is certainly an essential step in the right direction, though care will be needed to implement it properly.  Whilst there are many brilliant slope researchers and engineers in Taiwan, I hope that they will seek international input to make this as effective as is possible.

2. The extraordinary ongoing story of the Pakistan floods

For most of us the Pakistan floods feel like something that happened a while ago, lost in the mists of the summer (or winter if you are from the southern hemisphere).  However, the crisis is ongoing, with tens of thousands of people still displaced by the flood waters.  AFP carried a story this week that quoted Peter Zangl, the director general of the European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection department (ECHO), as saying:

“There is nearly water everywhere…The only perspective of getting rid of the water is evaporation. Depending on depth and climate conditions, this will take between two and six months”

The report also notes the cost of the floods is now estimated to be $9.7 billion.  In a country where the average per capita gross national income in 2008 was $980, that is a huge loss.

3. Attabad spillway deepening and the costs of rerouting the Karakoram Highway

The saga of deepening the spillway at the Attabad landslide continues unabated, quite unlike the work which, it appears, has yet to start.  The Pamir Times reports that Chinese help is being sought with regard to deepening the spillway (by 30 metres apparently) and rerouting the road.  The former needs to be undertaken in the next few months to prevent a repeat of last summer’s problems.  The reported costs of rerouting the highway over 30 km are estimated in the article to be $250 million to $300 million.  Given the strategic importance of this road to China, the article is probably right in hinting the the costs will probably be covered by the Chinese Government.  Meanwhile, with the winter snows beginning the people on the north side of the barrier are facing isolation once again.

4. Pragmatic risk management in Canada

Finally, thanks to Peter Weisinger for this wonderful example of pragmatic risk management in Canada: