Exploring synergies and opportunities at the interface between culture, ritual and science for landslide risk reduction

Nepal is a mountainous country highly susceptible to a range of geophysical and hydro-meteorological hazards including earthquakes, floods, landslides, lightning and droughts. Recent disasters include 2017’s monsoon floods that affected 35 of 77 districts killing 134 people, 2015’s Gorkha Earthquake and its aftershocks resulting in 8,970 fatalities, and 2014’s Sindhupalchok Jure landslide, that took the lives of 156 people and buried over 100 houses. Despite these high-profile events, the biggest net impacts accrue from pervasive small-scale local disasters that are rarely featured in the media and typically kill less than 5 people.

Whilst local in scale, such events remain beyond local capacities to mitigate, whereby available hard engineering is often woefully mismatched to the scale of the hazard it attempts to reduce. As such, mitigation measures such as gabion boxes are commonly ineffective yet viable and effective alternatives are few and far between. Researchers also predict that the risks and impacts of landslides in Nepal will continue to increase due to a range of factors, suggesting that this is a burgeoning issue.

These factors include: i) the ongoing proliferation of poorly engineered roads that destabilize already fragile slopes, ii) roadside migration and development in search of new opportunities exposing a greater proportion of the population to geohazards, and iii) climate change which is believed to be having a detrimental impact on the frequency and intensity of geohazards. These impacts are most often experienced in an uneven manner, and in particular by the ethnic groups that traditionally occupy Nepal’s hilly and mountain districts, such as the Tamang. Indeed, the 2015 earthquake has been described as having a “Tamang epicenter” reflecting the concentration of these impacts.

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