“Is it safe to rebuild the gumba?” The politics and practice of landslide risk management in post-earthquake Nepal

This event is co-sponsored by the Peter Wall Institute for Advanced Studies, the Institute of Asian Research, and the School of Public Policy and Global Affairs.


Landslides are a pervasive hazard in rural Nepal, where the impacts are manifest in very tangible ways: as a chronic threat to both lives and livelihoods; and via damage to and destruction of houses, farmland, roads and trails. While rural householders are very much aware of the causes and triggering mechanisms of landslides, and have developed their own ways of reducing the risks they face, gaps in local knowledge exist. This is particularly the case when the hazard context itself evolves, for example, following a high magnitude earthquake, which brings new behaviours to otherwise familiar landscapes. The 2015 Gorkha earthquake, which triggered over 22,000 landslides, the equivalent of more than 200 years of ‘normal’ landsliding, is a case in point. Many households are rebuilding and are seeking definitive answers to their questions and concerns about the landslide risk faced. But while landslide risk maps can be produced, and sites can be individually assessed by technical experts, the formulation, communication, use and even contestation of technical information and recommendations is poorly understood. Drawing on findings from a UK Department for International Development-funded project on landslide risk mapping, I provide a critical overview of landslide risk management in Nepal, including the role of science and technical expertise, and how this intersects with local knowledge, politics, power and agency within local government and communities themselves.

About the Speaker

Katie Oven is an Assistant Professor (Research) in the Department of Geography, Durham University, UK. Her research focuses on environmental hazards (including landslides and earthquakes) and human vulnerability, with a particular focus on South and Central Asia. Her recent research has explored issues of development, policy and governance in the context of disaster risk drawing on field research in Nepal. Related publications have sought to highlight the everyday lived experience of householders, and have taken a critical view of the institutionalised concepts of vulnerability and resilience.

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