Global and development-related research
UiB Global seminar

Five Hundred Years of Flood Management

Changing coping strategies in a Himalayan community?

Flood damage
Astrid Hovden

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Astrid Hovden
University of Oslo

Glacial Lake Outburst Floods (GLOFs) constitute an increasing threat throughout the Himalayas, but little is known about the perspectives and the strategies of the people in the communities at risk.

This talk will discuss past and present adaptation strategies employed by villagers in Limi, a community in north-western Nepal, which has been struck by a series of floods from a melting glacier.

Scars in the natural landscape testify that there have been numerous floods throughout history, and accounts of some of them can be found in old manuscripts from the region.

The first part of the talk will present cases from a sixteenth century monastic catalogue and a religious biography from the early twentieth century, and analyse the historical repertoire of adaptation strategies in the region. The texts give few clues about the cause of the floods, but offer ample information about embankments that were built, rituals that were performed, and about decision making and the capacity to mobilise workers and resources from a large region.

Based on ethnographic fieldwork during and after a GLOF that struck Limi in 2011, the second part of the talk will discuss continuities and changes in local risk perception and some of the coping strategies employed. The strategies include both structural and non-structural measures and have involved appeals to the district and national levels of the Nepali government administration, development organisations, as well as religious authorities. Because of the recurring floods the villagers have built resilience and have gained experience in how to cope. But the adaptation constitutes a serious strain to local resources and if climate change leads to more frequent and stronger floods in the future more sustainable long term solutions will be needed.

Astrid Hovden is a PhD candidate in the history of religions at the University of Oslo with the project “Between village and monastery: a historical ethnography of a Tibetan Buddhist community in north-western Nepal”. Her recently submitted thesis analyses social organisation, decision-making, recruitment, and monastic economy in a Himalayan community. While keeping the main focus on local agency, the thesis discusses how these domains have been negotiated in the context of broader socio-economic, religious, and political transformation processes. Parallel to this, Hovden has also been involved in interdisciplinary research cooperation on local adaptation to climate change. This research cooperation has so far resulted in two publications on the topic:

Diemberger, H.M.G., Hovden, A., and Yeh, E.T. 2015: The honour of the mountains is the snow: Tibetan livelihoods in a changing climate. In Huggel, Clague, Kääb, and Carey (eds.) /The high-mountain cryosphere: environmental changes and human risks/. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Kropáček, J, Neckel, N., Tyrna, B., Holzer, N., Hovden, A., Gourmelen, N., Schneider, C., Buchroithner, M., and Hochschild, V. 2015: Repeated Glacial Lake Outburst Floods threatening the oldest Buddhist monastery in north-western Nepal. /Natural Hazards and Earth System Sciences/. Doi: 10.5194/nhess-15-2425-2015