Loss and damage: A case study of Nepal’s landslide

  • 2016•11•10

    Photo by UNU-EHS/Kees van der Geest

    Nirjala Adhikari vividly remembers the precise moment a landslide hit her community of Jure, Sindhupalchok District, Nepal. “It was a very scary moment, and I couldn’t think of anything else than grabbing my mobile phone and my school certificate before I ran out of the house,” she recalls. “I secured my certificate because only this will help me establish a bright future.”

    Nirjala, who was 18 when she was interviewed by UNU-EHS researchers, now lives with her family, along with nine other affected households, in tents located in an abandoned factory. As well as making her homeless, the landslide of August 2014 also destroyed her school, plus it destroyed the family paddy field, which was their main source of income. Still, Nirjala feels lucky to have survived at all. With a death toll of 156, this was one of the deadliest landslides in Nepal’s history, and innovative new research by UNU-EHS experts has revealed the range and extent of the loss and damage it caused to hundreds of households.

    In all, the scientific lead Dr. Kees van der Geest of UNU-EHS surveyed 234 households to gain an understanding of the wide range of economic and non-economic losses and damages sustained by the households in the area as a direct result of the landslide. The study also looked into the effectiveness of the various preventative and coping measures adopted by the respondents, and analyzed what might have stopped households from doing more to protect themselves.

    One of the most severe impacts of the landslide was damage to or loss of land. Two thirds of the respondents (68%) estimated the losses and damages to land for their households at more than USD1,000 and for over half of this group, the losses were more than USD10,000. The research also found that respondents with an annual income of less than USD1,000 incurred median losses of around USD6,000, equivalent to 14 times the average annual income, whereas respondents with an annual income of more than USD2,000 had median losses of more than USD10,000, which was roughly three times their annual income on average.

    As Raju Pandit Chhetri, the Nepalese Executive Director of Prakriti Resources Centre and member of the Climate Change Council, explains: “This was an innovative and useful people-centred study into loss and damage carried out in our country. Nepal is highly prone to natural hazards such as landslides, flooding and droughts. Until now, however, we have lacked a scientific understanding of what loss and damage following such an event looks like at a local level. With these findings, we can analyse how communities are protecting themselves against natural hazards and what can potentially be done to help them become more resilient.”

    Indeed, for Dr. van der Geest, examining what communities were doing to minimize the potential consequences of a natural event such as a landslide, flooding or earthquake, was just as important as assessing the loss and damage caused when disaster did strike.

    “Our research shows that loss and damage is not only an issue for the future, but something that vulnerable communities are experiencing right now,” he says. “Our research has also shown that people are not passive victims of climactic changes or natural events. They are often doing much to avoid loss and damage but, as see in the Nepal case study, the stressors are often too overwhelming for them.”

    Notably, the study found that a majority (65%) of households had adopted preventive measures prior to the 2014 landslide. Livelihood diversification was found to be the most common tactic for minimising any potential losses and damages, with 41 per cent of households finding new ways of earning money to supplement income from agriculture. Meanwhile, around four in 10 households were found to have placed physical barriers around their properties so as to protect them from natural events – though, again, in many cases, despite people’s best efforts, this was simply not enough. Indeed, while one of the most common preventive measures, the installation of physical barriers was found to be one of the least successful, particularly when compared to house adjustments and pro-active migration.

    “Voluntary migration can be an effective way of adapting to climate stressors and increasing resilience,” affirms Dr. Robert Oakes, Senior Scientist at UNU-EHS , whose previous research has focused on the Pacific island nations. “Forced migration on the other hand is a key driver of Loss and Damage. When people have to leave their homes again their will, we can see that especially the non-economic losses and damages, such as threats to health, rights and culture are especially high. Case studies on the ground are so important because they help to give an accurate picture of the choices people can make, but also the constraints they are under.”

    The Nepal Loss and Damage Case Study was launched at COP22 in Marrakesh, Morocco.

    Download the full report here: Case Study Report: Loss and Damage from a Catastrophic Landslide in Sindhupalchok District, Nepal

    Download the press release here: Loss and damage happening now, Nepal case study by UNU-EHS finds