KATHMANDU: The seasons come and go.
It has been raining again. The roads are flooded once more. The newspapers report on the desperate situation. This year, there have been some creative people comparing our floods to the international scene. One such comparison was a Tata truck marooned in high waters being presented as the Nepali version of a tactical submarine. Another pair of
images compared the flood at Jyatha with the canals of Venice. They were surprisingly similar.
The comparison to Venice, however, raises numerous questions, since Venice is sinking. One to two millimetres per year might sound slow, but it quickly adds up when we consider this to be an ongoing process over centuries. There is movement due to plate tectonics and the subduction of the Adriatic Plate. The cause has, however, also been ascribed to the compacting of the sediment layers for construction and the extraction of ground water. The problem is being compounded by the fact that the level of the sea is rising and estimates show that in
comparison to the sea, the city could sink up to 80 millimetres in the next 20 years.
The response to this threat has led to dramatic discussions between planners and politicians. Ground water extraction has been stopped and studies show that this has helped. There have even been plans to inject water back into the aquifers below the city. The more spectacular
concepts have, however, arisen from the projects to protect
the city from the rising sea.
The finalised project comprises of three gigantic gates that shut when the water rises, protecting the city from tides that
are up to three metres high.
The multi-billion dollar project MOSE, an acronym for the
Italian name meaning Experimental Electromechanical
Module, also refers to Moses, who in biblical times divided the Red Sea with his staff.
But the situation in the
Kath-mandu Valley is, however, slightly different. Over the
past 40 million years, this spot has been rising from under the sea to great heights. It has not been a smooth ride, with the ground colliding, shaking, and folding, and the surfaces being eroded by rain and wind. We are told that until some 20,000 years ago there were a series of floods
and droughts, very much like the effects of the present climate change.
In Kathmandu, we have emerged high above the sea and will not be affected by the rising level of the oceans. Yet, our roads have come to look like the
canals of Venice. Even though the situations are diametrically different between Kathmandu and Venice, there are certain lessons to be learnt. The effects of ground water extraction have been pointed out before. Other threats to the valley, such as earthquake resilience, degene-ration of urban environment and the lack of services and living quality must be addressed. The solution might not arise from a single multi-billion dollar engineering feat, but some
drastic measures are required.
We notice the seasons in all the negative ways. The monsoon causes floods. The buildings leak. The road and air transportation becomes treacherous. In winter, it is cold and dark
with hardly any electricity. The changing seasons is a beautiful phenomenon. But we need to learn to respond to them. As a start, we can plant trees along the widened roads so that we can see the changing seasons in the colours of the leaves and blossoms blowing in the wind.
(The author is an architect
and can be contacted at