15 November 2012

Durham University undergraduate work on communities affected by landslides in Nepal

Posted by Dave Petley

Each year, undergraduates from my department (Geography) at here at Durham undertake a field trip to the Bhote Kosi area of northern Nepal.  This is a stunning environment that is also affected by multiple landslide hazards.  The impacts are serious, for example frequently disrupting the strategically-important Arniko Highway, which links Kathmandu and Tibet.  Inevitably though the greatest burden of the landslides falls upon the people living in the area, who are in general both very poor and very vulnerable to the affects of these hazards.  Although not of the highest resolution, the Google Earth perspective view gives a pretty clear view of how serious the landslide problem is in the area:

During the field trip, the students worked on a variety of physical and social projects in the area, spending time living in local communities.  One of the projects focused on the impacts of a large, deep-seated landslide on local communities, with data being collected through both detailed mapping and interviews with the indigenous population.  One of the students, Amy Wright, has written-up the work as a  post on the IHRR blog.  I thoroughly recommend that you take a look – this for example is a quote from her post:

“although not directly related to our study of changing landslide behaviour in relation to precipitation variations, the chronic risk that the local community faces due to the location of the settlement became apparent through our discussions with residents affected by the landslide. This was exemplified by the fact that  local resident Kahika Bahadurshrestha’s father and brother had been tragically killed in 1990 by a boulder 2m in diameter demolishing part of their house, which  was already partially destroyed twice this year.

“Despite the inherent risk posed by the landslide, the opportunity of living by the road being greater than the risk posed permeated the conversations; Kahika was able to earn a yearly salary that was above the national average through transferring goods from a vehicle on one side of the landslide to the other when the road had been blocked by slope movements.”

There are far too few studies on the social impacts of landslides, especially in less developed countries, so this is important.  That it is being undertaken by undergraduates as part of their course is all the more remarkable.