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Dams: don't panic

Letters to the editor

There are periodic scares about the glacial dam Tsho Rolpa bursting (NCE 19/26 August). There was an extraordinary panic in 1997 when numerous people were frightened into moving even further away from the river. This fear caused considerable and unnecessary social and economic disruption.

I am intrigued that Khimti hydroelectric plant is at risk, since this project was planned around the time another nearby hydroelectric plant in Khumbu was destroyed by a glacial lake outburst. There is always a risk of glacial dam bursts in the Himalayas, and the situation may be getting worse as a result of climate change. Control of malaria and construction of roads and other infrastructure is attracting more people into valleys: hence increasing the damage that would be caused by a dam burst.

It will not be possible to prevent all dam bursts by major engineering measures such as those being planned for Tsho Rolpa - and even that is not a complete solution. However, better information and planning could prevent much of the social and economic devastation that they can cause.

Simon Howarth,

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