Nepalis Still on Unstable Ground One Year After Quake

Daunting challenge of quake recovery in Langtang

Porters carrying construction materials to the Langtang Valley, which is accessible only by foot. It takes about three days walking from the nearest town to the village of Langtang, making quake recovery extremely expensive and challenging. Image by Jane Qiu. Nepal, 2016.

Kodari, Nepal—a former Nepalese trade center on the Araniko Highway near the border with China

A house in the town of Kodari—a former Nepalese trade center on the Araniko Highway near the border with China—survived the shaking during last year’s earthquake, but was crushed by rockfalls. The quake triggered more than 10,000 landslides across the country. Image by Jane Qiu. Nepal, 2016.

Landslides in Nepal have dramatically worsened since the Gorkha earthquake a year ago.

The remnants of a gigantic landslide, which killed 156 people and buried more than 100 houses in the Nepalese village of Jure in August 2014, are still visible. Nepal’s landslide problems, which increasingly plague the nation, have dramatically worsened after the Gorkha earthquake a year ago. Image by Jane Qiu. Nepal, 2016.

Landslide scars run down from a poorly built road near Mirmee in central Nepal like frozen waterfalls. The proliferation of road construction without proper slope stabilization has contributed to the rise in landslides in recent years. Image by Jane Qiu. Nepal, 2016.

This hotel—called Pairo Landslide Hot Spring Guest House in the Langtang Valley, a popular trekking destination in northern Nepal—was built at a site highly prone to rockfalls. It was crushed by large boulders in the 2015 earthquake. Image by Jane Qiu. Nepal, 2016.

e gigantic pile of debris, up to 60 meters deep, completely engulfed Langtang and nearby villages during the 2015 earthquake, leaving nearly 400 people missing or dead. The tragedy happened when 15 million tonnes of ice and rock tumbled several kilometers onto the valley floor. Image by Jane Qiu.

Tharchen Tamang, a villager in Mundu in the Langtang Valley, recalls the horrific day when the deadly avalanche buried two of her five children and their entire families—including all five of her grandchildren—along with a dozen relatives. Image by Jane Qiu. Nepal, 2016.

The stream pouring down the rock face overlooking the buried villages of Langtang Valley has been getting stronger in recent years. Locals also notice increasingly frequent rockfall. These match the hypothesis that climate change might be priming the landscape for the devastation. Image by Jane Qiu. Nepal, 2016.

A helicopter, sponsored by NGOs to transport construction materials to Langtang villages, toppled over on the landslide debris. It was the only chopper in Nepal that could carry heavy loads and navigate complex terrain. Image by Jane Qiu. Nepal, 2016.

Tsechu Dolma, founder and director of NGO the Mountain Resiliency Project, talks to Langtang villagers about a project to restore agriculture in the valley. The organization helps to build greenhouses so farmers can boost yields and diversify crop varieties. Image by Jane Qiu. Nepal, 2016.

Langtang villagers rebuild homes beside landslide debris. Scientists fear more avalanches are in the making on the slopes high above the valley. But people have nowhere else to go because their only assets and land have been destroyed. Image by Jane Qiu. Nepal, 2016.

The scientists check a wireless seismometer and weather station near Chaku. Such deployments aim to track changes in ground properties and their responses to earthquake aftershocks and rainfall. Image by Jane Qiu. Nepal, 2016.

Christoff Andermann, a geologist at the GFZ German Research Centre for Geosciences, monitors river flow and sediment transport near Khurkot in central Nepal. Such studies help to estimate the movement of debris and groundwater from hillsides to rivers. Image by Jane Qiu. Nepal, 2016.

The Gorkha earthquake that struck Nepal a year ago this week killed nearly 9,000 people. It also unleashed more than 10,000 landslides. Many buildings and other key pieces of infrastructure survived the shaking only to be crushed by rockfalls and debris flows.

The most violent such event occurred in the Langtang Valley, a popular tourism destination 70 kilometres north of Kathmandu, where 15 million tonnes of ice and rocks crashed several kilometres down onto the valley floor with an impact that released nearly half the energy of the Hiroshima nuclear bomb. The avalanche engulfed Langtang and nearby villages, leaving nearly 400 people dead or missing.

But destruction doesn’t stop when the shaking did. The landscape, now severely weakened by the quake, is more prone to failure — a legacy that is likely to endure and be exacerbated by rain and aftershocks for years to come. This poses an enormous challenge for quake recovery. The Araniko Highway that connects Nepal’s capital, Kathmandu, with Tibet, for instance, is barely operational after continuing to be hit by landslides. This cuts off one of Nepal’s trade lifelines at a cost of about US$1.5 million a day.

Landslide hazards also make it difficult to determine what reconstruction sites are geologically safe. In addition to rigorous hazard mapping, researchers call for close monitoring of changes in slope properties and how they respond to monsoons and aftershocks.

Such studies could allow researchers to determine the amount of rainfall that could trigger a landslide and identify signs of deformation days before one occurs. This offers a real prospect of an effective early-warning system for a problem that increasingly plagues the Himalayan nations.

This photo gallery visits quake-stricken regions in Nepal, including villages along the Araniko Highway and the Langtang Valley.