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Project April 25, 2016

Nepal's Ticking Timebomb


Landscape badly scarred by last year's quake
The mountainsides, severely weakened by last year’s Gorkha Earthquake, is more likely to give way, especially during monsoons and aftershocks. Image by Kristen Cook. Nepal, 2015.

Earthquakes and landslides are like conjoined twins that go hand in hand. They can cause similar levels of casualties, but most resources go into building quake-resistant houses and far too little into mitigating landslide risks. Consequently, landslides can continue to kill and wreck havoc many years after a major quake, such as the 2008 Wenchuan earthquake in China.

On April 25 last year, the devastating magnitude-7.8 Gorkha earthquake struck Nepal, claiming nearly 9,000 lives. One year on, the legacy of the quake is painfully evident: millions of people are still displaced; the scarred landscape remains a threat to relocated villagers and infrastructures—with massive economic consequences. As another monsoon season looms, many are braced for the next round of disastrous landslides.

In this project, Jane Qiu accompanies scientists along the Arniko Highway that connects Kathmandu with Tibet, one of the areas worst-hit by landslides.

New research has shed light on the physical processes of landslides and how a landscape evolves after a major quake—which are crucial for any sound reconstruction plans. Scientists are also able to pinpoint seismological precursors long before slopes begin to fail, offering a real prospect of early warning systems.

Qiu also reports from Langtang, a popular trekking destination in northern Nepal, where a monstrous avalanche engulfed several villages, leaving nearly 400 people dead or missing. She looks at the challenges of reconstruction in remote mountain villages and the continuing danger people face.


yellow halftone illustration of an elephant


Environment and Climate Change

Environment and Climate Change