September 18, 2021, Saturday
Nepal 1:37:26 pm

Catastrophic floods leave fate of Melamchi Project Uncertain

The Nepal Weekly
August 17, 2021

While the Melamchi Water Supply Development Board (MWSDB) is hopeful to channelise the water of the Melamchi River into the tunnel through alternative and temporary measures, immediate solutions have not been seen as the almost-complete head works remains buried under about 15 to 20-metre-thick debris. The board said that there were fewer chances of having the site cleared at the head works until the end of the monsoon since more debris is likely to flow because landslides and snow melting have not stopped yet.

“Head works is buried about 15-20 metre down in the debris, which is still flowing in the river that might further increase river level, thereby complicating the restoration of the completed civil works,” informed Rajendra Prasad Pant, Spokesperson for the board.

He said that all infrastructures of the project in Sindhupalchok district were buried under debris and head works might need rebuilding. About Rs. 650 million was invested in developing the works.

The MWSDB had made a request to the Nepali Army seeking support of the latter in the clean-up work, but it reportedly said it would be risky to work in the river during the monsoon.

Meanwhile, it might take a long time to clear the debris as the site is located at a narrow gorge of the river and only few heavy equipment could be sent there for the cleaning work.

Similarly, tunnels are also inaccessible. According to Pant, Ambathan audit entry point is blocked while water collected in the tunnel is sent out through Sundarijal, Sindhu and Gyalthum audit.

“But without opening the Ambathan audit, the water cannot be emptied out and technicians go inside the tunnel,” he pointed out. The floods have caused the damage of about Rs. 2 billion to the project, according to the primary estimates of the project while properties worth billions of rupees have been swept away.

It killed five people while 20 who were swept away are still unaccounted for. Civil works of the head works were completed and a small amount of hydro-mechanical and electrical work was remaining. But the floods on June 14 and 15 wreaked havoc on the project site. The floods entered the settlements in Helambu and Melamchi area, sweeping away houses, fields, roads and bridges. The project site is difficult to access, since all the bridges were washed away by the devastating flood. The disaster, caused by both man-made and climatic factors, has left the project in a state of limbo. About 30 billion is already spent on it.

According to a report published by the ICIMOD, factors including weather conditions, snowmelt and erosion of glacial deposits, glacial lake outburst, landslide and river damming, new landslide, riverbank erosion and debris deposition were responsible for the floods. Risk analysis of the Melamchi upstream area was done during the feasibility study about three decades ago but early disasters were not forecast. The study had, however, mentioned about the risks that a project in a river originating from the Himalayas could meet in the future such as glacial lake outburst, glacier melting and landslides.

A team of consultants of the project recently inspected the area. Pant said that the team was working to save the junction between the tunnel and head works to stop debris from flowing into the tunnel. Meanwhile, a government technical team led by Chief Executive Officer of the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Authority, Anil Pokharel, left for Melamchi area to carry out survey of the site for the construction of Bailey or mechanical bridges.