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Disaster and Climate Resilience Across the Eastern Himalayas

Project Reference: RSAS-0013

The project utilised a regional approach for the integration of climate change information into risk reduction and rural development planning at the landscape scale that takes stakeholder perceptions, aspiration, and constraints more fully into account while bringing DRR and Climate Change Adaptation (CCA) processes into closer interaction within institutional and policy spaces.

The research focused on the Sikkim and Darjeeling in the Eastern Himalayan Region. In Darjeeling Hills, one of the project sites Singalila ranges on the border between Nepal and India. This allows for initiating regional cooperation in border areas and foster India-Nepal collaboration on climate change activities, increasing the applicability of the project results  to other parts of South Asia.

Taking the cases of the 2009 cyclone and the 2011 earthquake impacts in Darjeeling and Sikkim (supplemented by examination of other less dramatic and more routine incidents in recent years), the study sought to bring out specific strengths and deficits in the regional disaster response planning and implementation systems, and assessed whether weaknesses can reasonably be attributed in part to institutional isolation of DRR authority.  Included in the situational analysis is the performance of a series of recently commissioned hydroelectric dams in Sikkim, and the construction of an extensive new network of rural roads, in using appropriate technologies and design suited to the fragile ecosystem.

The research model combined four components to integrate climate change information into risk reduction and rural development planning :  1. Stakeholder perceptions assessment; 2. Knowledge synthesis, including preliminary climate modeling; 3. Capacity-building of local CBOs, NGOs and civil society organizations, and 4. Improving capacity of  policy-makers by sharing research outputs and results on the ground.

Read a report from one such consultation to learn more.

Initial research results

The research has studied perceptions of risk associated with livelihood security and with large infrastructure development in the Indian East Himalaya, including mainstreamed in a series of newly commissioned dams and the rapidly expanding network of rural roads in the eastern Himalayas, India. The researchers found that in these landslide-prone areas, large and expensive dams were widely perceived as increasing the risk of major disasters.   Similarly, the road network under study was also found to enhance risks, largely due to inadequate financial investment leading to the poor quality construction. This was a classic case of the solution to one problem (lack of rural connectivity) creating another problem (increased risk of serious landslides) due to inadequate linkage of climate awareness with development planning and activities.

While the team found major challenges to mainstreaming in both cases, they found that influencing the design or development of dams was particularly difficult due to the number of vested interests in the vast financial investment that the initiatives attracted. Even though there was also substantial political involvement in the development of the rural roads network, there were more openings for mainstreaming as decision making processes were more decentralised to the local level and those charged with making decisions were approachable.

Overall, the project team highlighted the need for individuals with a sharp handle on ‘politics’ and ‘political processes’ to be a part of efforts to ensure mainstreaming in infrastructure. This is because infrastructure projects are the source of substantial ‘political capital’ for operatives at different levels of governance and it is easy for the mainstreaming agenda to threaten the interests and agendas at play. The study finds that this dynamic is enhanced where government departments and ministries remain as ‘black boxes’ for external actors attempting to influence policy processes. It is particularly important for individuals with political acumen to map these environments and exploit entry points strategically.

Download a presentation on the project and initial results for more information.

Principal Investigator: Sarala Khaling, Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology & the Environment (ATREE)-India)

Co-investigators: Reinmar Seidler, ATREE-USA, Pashupati Chaudhary, Local Initiatives for Biodiversity, Research and Development (LI-BIRD), Nepal.

CDKN funding: £65,533

Project Manager: Dina Khan

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Project Highlights


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