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Landslides Risk Perception of Indigenous People: A Case Study of

Upper Madi, Nepal


Sher Bahadur Gurung
Central Department of Geography, TU
Abstract
Landslides play a major role in the development of mountain landscape. They cause
environment degradation, disrupt drainage systems, accelerate river bank cutting, and
loss of scenic beauty of mountain environments. Landslides threaten people, their
property and livelihood sources like, significant damage to crops, farmland, livestock
and infrastructure. The present study "Risk Perception and Adoptive Strategies of
Indigenous People in Dealing with Landslides: A Case Study of Upper Madi, Nepal" has
assessed perceptions on landslides of different ethnic and caste groups. This study was
carried out in four villages namely Taprang, Khilang and Sikles of Sildujure VDC and
Ghyaprang of Namarjung VDC, Kaski district. All the ethnic community and caste
groups living in the area were affected annually by landslide. Houses, arable land, and
land properties were extremely affected in the area from the landslide. Local people
explained their knowledge about landslide occurrence and its causes. Higher rainfall,
faulty system of converting upland (Bari) into rice field (Khet), improper arable land and
forest management, road construction without proper drain outlet, and out-migration of
people have been observed as the major causes of landslides in the study area. There
is natural, social, and spiritual belief on causes of landslides among indigenous
community and caste groups. The traditional beliefs are the anger of God, Bhumi and
snake god (Nag) causing landslides.
Key words: Landslides, Natural Disaster, Risk Perception, Indigenous Knowledge

Introduction
Landslides in Nepal are one of the most common natural hazards, claiming a significant
number of lives each year and resulting in untold damage to the environment. It also
plays a major role in the development of mountain landscape. Although they cause
environment degradation, disrupt drainage systems, bank cutting, and loss of scenic
beauty of mountain environments. Landslides threaten people, their property and
livelihood sources like, significant damage to crops, farmland, livestock and
infrastructure. Recent landslides in Nepal have resulted in the loss of homes and lives,
settlements, farming land and farm production, livestock, basic infrastructures and
facilities such as irrigation canals, drinking water system, trails, road networks etc.
(Ministry of Home affair, 2011) The impacts are both direct and indirect, affecting even
the downstream area. There is lack of assessment of landslides. Providing timely help,
relief, and assistance to the victims of landslides has been a major problem in Nepal.
Plans and activities on disaster mitigation and preparedness were developed after the
enactment of Natural Disaster Relief Act, 1982. It was only after 1991, following the
declaration of International Decade for Natural Disaster Reduction, preparation and
management of disaster were taken into consideration (Pradhan, 2007). The focus has
been only on post disaster activities. However, in the mountainous regions, it is often
difficult to send help to landslide areas immediately. Moreover, relief work and economic
assistance to landslide victims are recent phenomena.

It has been assumed that the local inhabitants have developed indigenous knowledge
about the landslide occurrence and that they are aware of the situation and that they
have adopted some form of coping strategy of landslide hazard. However, there is lack
of information on indigenous knowledge of local inhabitants. The objective of this study
is to analyze and assess the indigenous peoples response to landslide risk
perception.

Methodology
It seems the indigenous people had developed their own terminology for natural
disasters including landslides, types, occurrences and forecasting mechanisms. They
would have also their own pre-disaster and post-disaster (protective, preventive,
planned and spontaneous) risk perception. The present study incorporates above
mentioned variables.

The present study is applied ethnographical methodology (Bjonness, 1986, Gurung,


1989, Hammersey and Atkinson, 2007, Dekens, 2008) for landslides vulnerability and
risk perceptions, and adoptive strategies of the community.

Primary and Secondary sources of information is collected to fulfill the research


questions of the study.
A) Primary information
Field survey was conducted during monsoon and post-monsoon period, in April and July
2012. The primary data is collected using geomorphological field observation,
household survey, focus group discussion (FGD) and key informant survey (KIS)
methods. Household survey, FGD and key informant survey were conducted in both
indigenous community and caste group living in the study area. One FGD was
conducted in each settlement. Information was collected on government help and
assistance to landslide victims. Information was also collected from INGOs/NGOs or
other agencies involved in disaster management activity in the study area.
B) Secondary Information
Landslide inventories for the study area were completed using 1:50,000 toposheet map
no 2884 05, 2884 08, 2884 09, 2884 12, geological map of 1984 and 1993,
Meteorological data from 1990 to 2007 and Google map 2010. Published books,
journals articles, unpublished dissertations, thesis, reports, documents etc were
reviewed . Information was collected at Annapurna Conservation Area Office, District
Soil Conservation Office, and the agencies involved in disaster management.
Available information about understanding of landslide hazard was analyzed through
interpretation of meaning, functions and consequences of their action and institutional
practices and how they are implemented (Hammersey and Atkinson, 2007).

Study Area:
Based on relief, geology, and ethnic composition, Upper Madi in the Madi watershed
has been selected as the study area. It lies between 27 57' and 28 35' north latitude
and 84 1' and 84 21' east longitude and occupy 763.5 square kilometer which is 68
percent of Madi watershed. The high Himalayan crystaline is dominant geological
formation of the area which is followed by lesser Himalayan Metasediments (Kunchha),
lesser Himalayan Metasediments (Nuwakot) and Tibetian sedimentry zone (Department
of Mines and Geology, 1983 and1994) where the elevation ranges from 602 m. to 7525
m.
Upper Madi has high mountain landscape (57 percent very steep slope) characterized
by higher precipitation (annual 3,743mm) , poor accessibility, lower density of livestock
and human population, lower rate of population growth, lower to moderate level of
literacy, higher proportion of forest and shrub land and domination of Gurung ethnic
group (Khanal, 2002).
Since around 500 A.D Gurung community, the indigenous people, started to settle in
this area, crossing Annapurna range (Tamu Pye Lhu Shang, 1995). The ancient village
is dominated by Gurung (Tamu) community and they predominantly practice the ancient
Bon religion, which is Shamanistic and animistic in nature and some Gurungs later
came to adopt Tibetan Buddhism (Alan 1976). There are also some caste group people
living in this area.
Farming and livestock rearing are their traditional profession and forests provide forage
and grazing land to livestock, compost material for farming and fuel wood for household.
Taparng village from Sildajure VDC recently severely affected from landslide, Khilang
and Sikles VDC which is least effected villages from landslides and Ghaybrang village
of Namarjung VDC have past experiences of landslide hazard and thus these
surrounding areas were selected as study area.

RISK PERCEPTION
Prone to Landslides
Local people build-up risk perception based on their experiences and religious belief.
The following table is obtained from field survey and interaction with Taprang Landslide
Victim Struggle Committee. Out of the total 157 households, Taprang settlements,
131households (83.4 %) identified themselves as prone to landslide risk (see table 1).
out of that 18 household are severely affected (People displaced), 72 household are
endangered (need Displaced) and rest of the household are risk to landslide. In the
case of a household is severely affected. The caste/ethnic groups' landslides victim of
the study area where 66.9 percent of Brahamin/Chhetri community suffered which is
followed by 17.8 percent Gurung community, 12.1 percent Pariyar community and 3.2
BK community respectively.

Table 1 Household risk to landslide


Total
Total No of Settlements
(%)
Caste/ethnicity household
s Taprang Khilan Sikle Ghaypran
* g s g
Brahmin/Chhet
105 83 2 14 6 66.9
ri
Gurung 28 28 0 0 0 17.8
Pariyar 19 16 2 1 0 12.1
BK 5 4 0 1 0 3.2
100.
Total 157 131 4 16 6
0
Source: Field Survey 2012, April
*Classified by Taprang Landslide Victim Struggle Committee

Table 2 Caste/ethnic perception on causes of landslides


Source: Field Survey 2012
Causes Caste/ethnic Total
Chhetr
Gurung Braman i BK Pariyar Magar Sunar
Natural (48.3%)

Cracks on 2
fields 0 (11.1%) 0 0 0 0 0 2 (2.4%)
Heavy 12 1
Rainfall (23.1%) 1 (5.6%) 0 3 (60%) (20%) 0 0 17 (20.5%)
Water
pressure 2 (3.8%) 1 (5.6%) 0 0 0 0 0 3 (3.6%)
10 1
Weak Rock (19.2%) 1 (5.6%) 0 0 (20%) 0 0 12 (14.5%)
River Cutting 3 (5.8%) 0 0 0 0 0 0 3 (3.6%)
Old Landslide 1 (1.9%) 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 (1.2%)
Steep Slope 2 (3.8%) 0 0 0 0 0 0 2 (2.4%)
(7.2%)Social

Bad
Agricultural
practice 1 (1.9%) 1 (5.6%) 0 0 0 0 0 2 (2.4%)
Deforestation 2 (3.8%) 0 0 1 (20%) 0 0 0 3 (3.6%)
Poor
Drainage
outlet 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 (1.2%)
Spiritua

4
Anger of God 1 (1.9%) (22.2%) 0 0 0 0 0 5 (6%)
Nag (Snake 3 (5.8%) 2 0 0 0 0 0 5 (6%)
(13.2%)l
god) (11.1%)
Bhume (God
of Land) 1 (1.9%) 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 (1.2%)
Don't know 1
6 (100% 3 1 1(100%
13 (25%) (33.3%) ) 1 (20%) (60%) (100%) ) 26 (31.3%)
Total 1
52 18 (100% 5 1 1
(100%) (100%) ) 5 (100%) (100%) (100%) (100%) 83 (100%)
Landslide Risk Perception of Local Communities
Local people predicts possible landslide observing the crack developed at the top of the
land slide crown, sudden appearance of water springs in the area, and tilting of trees,
buildings, wall etc. They believe that crown of old landslide is high risk to reactivating
landslide. There is temple of Bhume above Taprang village and local inhabitants believe
that landslide may extend up to the temple because god is unhappy with the villagers.
After worshiping of god Bhume, the village shaman (head healer) predicts that some
natural calamities and other human misfortunes might occur soon.
A 63 years old man narrated that on 3 August 2012 at 7 AM he went to collect grass in
his field located in landslide prone area. He felt vomiting, headache and long toilet; he
tried to vomit and to do toilet but he could not do so. He immediately returned to his
home. When he just crossed the field landslide took place at 9 o'clock.
There is natural (48.3%), social (7.2%) and spiritual (13.2%) belief on causes of
landslides among the peoples that 31.30 percent people exactly don't know the causes
of landslides (see table 9.3). Among the natural rational of local communities arguments
about the causes of landslide is heavy rainfall (20.5%), weak rock (14.5%). In the case
of social factors, deforestation (3.6%) and bad agriculture practice (2.4%) contribute.
The traditional belief about causes of landslide is due to anger of god which is 6 percent
and snake god (Nag) also 6 percent.
The Gurung people believe that causes of landslide is natural (57.6%), spiritual (9.6%),
social (3.3%) and don't know (25%). In contrast, Brahamin and Chhetri community
Natural (27.9%), spiritual (33.3%), social (5.6%) and don't know (33.3%).

Prediction of Landslides by Local Community


In the study area, landslides event is predicted based on natural process and
phenomenon (59.1%), spiritually (10.8%) and cannot predict (30.1 %). Among the
villages, they predict landslide based on physical processes where Taprang village
landslides is predicted on spiritually (30%).
The table 9.6 shows the ability of landslide prediction of caste/ethnic groups. The
Gurung community predict landslide based on natural phenomena (65.3%), spiritually
(7.7%) and cannot predict (26.9%). Similarly, Bhramin community prect landslide
based on natural processes (33.3%), spiritually (27.8%) and cannot predict (38.9%).
Pariyar community predict landslides naturally (80%) and cannot predict is 20 percent.

Table 3 Caste/ethnic Prediction of Landslides


Prediction
Caste Total

Brama
Gurung n Chetri BK Pariyar Magar Sunar

Physica Rainfall 1
2 4 2 21
l 12 (23.1%) (100% 0 0
(11.1%) (80%) (40%) (25.3%)
)

Springs 2 2
0 0 0 0 0 0
(11.1%) (2.4%)

wet, muddy, Sandy and 1 14


13 (25%) 0 0 0 0 0
kamero Soil (20%) (16.9%)

Steep slopes 1 7
6 (11.5%) 0 0 0 0 0
(20%) (8.4%)

Cracks and Landslides 2 4


2 (3.8%) 0 0 0 0 0
(11.1%) (4.8%)

Gully 1
1 (1.9%) 0 0 0 0 0 0
(1.2%)

Spiritual 5
9
Spiritual power 4 (7.7%) (27.8% 0 0 0 0 0
(10.8%)
)

Can't Predict 7 1 1
1 1
14 (26.9%) (38.9% 0 (100% (100% 25
(20%) (20%)
) ) )

Total 1 5 5 1 1
18 83
52 (100%) (100% (100% (100% (100% (100%
(100%) (100%)
) ) ) ) )

Source: Field Survey 2012

Conclusion
Local people particularly the Brahmin community perceive that the landslide occurred
due to killing of a big Kali Nag -god snake some 25 years ago which lived in the
landslide area. Whereas Gurung and other ethnic community in the village believe that it
is due to the anger of Bhume -God of Land because people bring pork into the village.
Some people believe that landslide occurred because of unhappy Kuldevta -ancestral
god of Devkota and Baral families which was established in their rice field. The study
shows the caste/ethnic groups' landslides victim of the study area where 66.9 percent of
Brahamin/Chhetri community suffered which is followed by 17.8 percent Gurung
community, 12.1 percent Pariyar community and 3.2 BK community respectively

There is natural (48.3%), social (7.2%) and spiritual (13.2%) belief on causes of
landslides among the peoples that 31.30 percent people exactly don't know the causes
of landslides. Among the natural rational of local communities arguments about the
causes of landslide is heavy rainfall (20.5%), weak rock (14.5%). In the case of social
factors deforestation (3.6%) and bad agriculture practice (2.4%) contribute. The
traditional belief about causes of landslide is due to anger of god which is 6 percent and
snake god (Nag) also 6 percent.
The Gurung people believe that causes of landslide is natural (57.6%), spiritual (9.6%),
social (3.3%) and don't know (25%). In contrast, Brahamin and Chhetri community
Natural (27.9%), spiritual (33.3%), social (5.6%) and don't know (33.3%). The local
people have low knowledge of risk perception.

Acknoledgement: I would like to heartfelt thank to SNV, Nepal for entrusting and
providing me fund to conduct this research. I am particularly indebted Dr. Shree
Govinda Shah for his resourceful guidance to carry out the research and prepare this
report.

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