From: David Brunnstrom, Reuters
Published February 14, 2006 12:00 AM

Prompt Action Urged on Pakistan Landslide Threat

ISLAMABAD — Landslides present a substantial threat to survivors of last October's catastrophic earthquake in Pakistan and urgent action is needed ahead of summer rains to prevent large-scale loss of life, experts say.


Professor David Petley of the International Landslide Centre at Britain's University of Durham and Dr Mark Bulmer of the Landslide Observatory at the University of Maryland in the United States visited the quake zone in northern Pakistan in January.


In a joint report made available on Monday, they said that while the response of Pakistani and international relief agencies to the Oct. 8 quake had been remarkable, landslides posed a "substantial threat" to survivors.


The experts noted during their visit that a number of refugee tent villages were located in highly dangerous positions in river valleys vulnerable to landslides and needed to be moved.


The earthquake and more than 1,500 aftershocks triggered countless landslides in mountainous Pakistani Kashmir and adjoining North West Frontier Province.


The report said "near perfect" conditions had been created for fresh slides and flash floods.


"We predict there will will be a very high incidence of slip failures during the July monsoon season and many of these failures will be large-scale and destructive," it said.


"There are large numbers of people living on and beneath these slopes. The potential for large-scale loss of life is high."


"URGENT ACTION REQUIRED"


The quake was the strongest in South Asia in 100 years and killed more than 73,000 people in Pakistan and 1,300 in India. More than three million people were made homeless.


A major international relief effort has averted a feared second wave of deaths from cold and hunger over the winter, but the experts said a second disaster could still be imminent.


"We feel that urgent action is required and strongly urge the authorities to recognise that a policy of just monitoring is simply not adequate in this case," their report said.


The Pakistani military warned in December that the collapse of a mountainside triggered by the quake had blocked two major streams near the town of Hattian Bala in Kashmir, creating huge lakes that could endanger up to 12,000 people.


The experts' report said the potential for a "catastrophic breach" of a dam created by the landslides at Hattian Bala was very high -- a greater than 80 percent chance -- and summer rains presented a serious threat of a second "large-scale disaster".


"We believe that the breach of the larger lake will be potentially catastrophic and will induce a flood that will be highly destructive," it said.


Colonel Baseer Haider Malik, a spokesman for the Pakistani government's earthquake relief commission, said he did not believe there was any immediate danger to populations.


He said spillways -- one of the recommendations of the report -- had already been created to release water from the lakes.


Malik also said he was confident other necessary work in the quake zone would be completed and people moved from danger areas by the time of the summer rains.


Source: Reuters


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