Landslides are a common occurrence in the ASEAN region – particularly when heavy monsoonal rains are in season. They are a complex event, often caused by a mix of extreme weather and unstable soil dynamics, with their onset more likely taking place quickly and unexpectedly. Adding to the complexity is the constant development of new human settlements and buildings, many of which take place without proper consideration to location and risks – as well as adding to the instability of surrounding ground and soil formations. Coupled with an ever-changing climate and unpredictable weather, landslides continue to increase in number and threaten the lives and livelihoods of communities across ASEAN. There are, however, some simple steps that everyday citizens can take to ensure they are better-prepared should a landslide occur in their immediate area, and armed with this knowledge be more resilient in the face of a dangerous landslide.
While assessing the risk of landslides can be a scientific and technical process, there are some simple questions we can ask ourselves in order to identify landslide risks within our own homes and communities.
1. IS MY HOME BUILT IN A LANDSLIDE-POTENTIAL AREA?
High-risk areas for landslide are for homes on the side or at the bottom of steep hills, particularly in areas prone to heavy rains. Hilly areas that have been cleared of forest or experienced development (road or building) are also more susceptible to landslides, as are areas with visible water runoff flows.
2. HAVE THERE BEEN PREVIOUS LANDSLIDES IN MY AREA?
Landslides will often reoccur in a previous landslide location, due to the initial terrain and the increased instability due to the previous landslide. Aside from stories of previous landslides – alongside any registered occurrences – historic events can also be evidenced by fallen tree trunks, upheaved boulders and clear signs of land destruction.
3. ARE THERE VISIBLE SIGNS OF INSTABILITY, LEADING TO POTENTIAL LANDSLIDE IN THE FUTURE?
Cracks and crevices in land are strong signs of landslide potential, as are sunken areas of land or holes clearly caused by water drainage. Also look for structures (such as electricity poles or even buildings) that are leaning to the side, as this is a sure sign of land movement that could result in landslide.
FACING A LANDSLIDE
Although they can occur quickly and unexpectedly, there are a number of steps that everyday citizens can take to ensure they are better-prepared and ready to act should a landslide become imminent or occur at short notice.
1. READ THE ‘SIGNS’
Staying up-to-date with weather predictions and being prepared is imperative to ensure you can move at a moment’s notice. Keep a close eye on changes in your surroundings, and monitor any changes in land or surrounding environment that might point to an occurrence. Listen to heavy or other deep rumbling that may signify a landslide, and overall, if things don’t feel safe, follow your instinct and leave.
2. PREPARE AN EVACUATION PLAN
Most local governments will have a disaster evacuation plan, so make sure you learn it and share it with your family. Support this plan by making your own household evacuation plan – including what to do, each person’s responsibilities, and where to go if the time comes to evacuate.
3. READY A GRAB BAG
Having a Grab-Bag is imperative should you have to evacuate at short notice. Amongst other things, it should contain drinking water, nutritional food/snacks, spare warm clothes, a torch, a communication device, and important medication. It is best to place it in a waterproof bag, as evacuations from landslides will often take place in heavy rain and muddy conditions.
AFTER A LANDSLIDE
An area that has experienced a landslide may remain unstable for some time, however when it is considered safe to return, there are a number of things that require attention.
1. STAY AWAY
Initially, the safest option is to remain away from the landslide location, as to avoid being caught in any reoccurrence. You should look to authorities to provide assessment and information regarding when it is safe to return to your home after a landslide.
2. CHECK FOR INSTABILITY
Upon returning, survey your immediate area and check for signs of land instability surrounding your home. Check your home itself for cracks or shifts in the structure, as well as gas and electricity connections for signs of rupture. Do not stay in your home if there are still danger signs related to any of these things.
3. REPLANT DAMAGED GROUND
Longer-term, a great way to help avoid a landslide reoccurrence is to replant surrounding land with trees and bushes native to your area. This will help compact and stabilise the soil, as well as support draining and diverting groundwater runoff in future wet weather events.
Written by : William Shea | Photo : AHA Centre