Post-earthquake Management in Tibet

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IMHE researchers speak with GesangTsering, Vice Chairman of TAR, during their investigation.

The April 2015 earthquake had far reaching impacts in the HKH region. Although the epicentre was north-west of Kathmandu, Nepal, in the Tibet Autonomous Region's (TAR) Nyalam County, 26 people were killed, 49 people were injured, and nearly 8,400 people were left at risk. The quake also impacted project sites where the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development’s (ICIMOD) Koshi Basin Programme has been working with the Institute of Mountain Hazards and Environment, Chinese Academy of Sciences (IMHE-CAS).

In the immediate hours after the earthquake, Dr Chen Ningsheng, Dr Hu Guisheng, and Dr Deng Mingfeng, researchers at IMHE who are working with the Koshi Basin Programme, submitted a post-earthquake policy recommendation to CAS. The recommendations, entitled Enhancing Mountain Hazard Management in the Southern Slopes of the Himalayas in China in Light of the Nepal Earthquake, were based on on-going fieldwork in TAR. The team synthesised data on the region's geology, weather, and topography to evaluate the potential for future risks. They noted that pre-earthquake, the upper Koshi basin had 15 risky glacial lakes, two sections of national roads that were prone to landslides, and five areas were at risk of avalanche. With particular focus on Nyalam County town, the Sino-Nepal Friendship Road, and the Zhagmu Dry Port, the paper provided recommendations for post-earthquake disaster risk reduction.

Damaged buildings in Zhangmu, on the Nepal-China border.

Following this, Dr Chen, along with a team of experts enlisted by the Ministry of Land and Resources (MLR), completed a seven-day geological hazard investigation in the earthquake-affected areas of the upper Koshi basin. The investigation found that the region would benefit from a geological hazard management plan and the installation of flood early warning systems should aftershocks trigger the eruption of a glacial lake. Government agencies in TAR moved to take the suggestions forward. 

The team's geological hazard investigation was complimented by a four-day disaster loss assessment in earthquake-affected areas of TAR by Dr Chen and a team from the National Disaster Reduction Commission (NDRC). The goal of the investigation was to provide a guideline for post-earthquake reconstruction at a time when the threat of further dangerous aftershocks was hampering post-disaster management.The team assessed casualties, property losses, and infrastructure damages, and concluded that damage was wide-ranging and large. On 17 May, 2015, the team presented their results at an NDRC meeting in Beijing. 

Lastly, under the auspices of Dr Chen and TAR's Department of Land and Resources, a nine person team from IMHE completed an intensive, month-long investigation of geological hazards in Nyalam County, where the Koshi Basin Programme bases some of its work. The work began in mid-May 2015, and surveyed 45 villages and 328 geological hazard sites. The final analysis identified 211 earthquake-induced hazards throughout five towns in Nyalam County, including 10 landslides, 159 collapsed slopes, 26 debris flow gullies, and 25 unstable slopes. The group found that areas between Nyalam town and the Nepal-China border were more prone to landslides and slope collapses, while areas between Nyalam town and Dadi village were prone mainly to slope collapses and debris flows. The eastern slopes of Mt. Shixiabangma were prone to glacial debris flows. The investigation culminated into a series of post-disaster recommendations for the upper Koshi basin. 

High-risk mountain hazard sites in the Chinese part of Bhote Koshi River basin