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Melting Glaciers, Sacred Landscapes and Mobile Technologies in a Changing Climate

In a confluence of events, climate change-related floods are occurring at the same historical moment that motorable roads and telephone connections, as well as new governance modes, are arriving in Buddhist societies in Nepal and Bhutan. The project analyses environmental perceptions and decision-making at this crucial moment of change.

Limi glacier 2010. Photo: Astrid Hovden
Photo: Astrid Hovden

About the Project

In recent years, scientific attention is increasingly turning to the Himalaya as the bellwether for climate change effects as Himalayan glaciers appear to be retreating rapidly and glacial lake outburst floods (GLOFs) are increasing in frequency.

Flash floods and environmental destruction now associated with anthropogenic climate change are of course nothing new. Himalayan communities have maintained records of their management of floods and other environmental hazards over centuries.

Well-intended development and climate adaptation programmes often fail to account for such local perspectives. Interventions may, therefore, founder because deeper historical and cultural forces often dictate whether or not a development project will be contested or productively managed.

"Himalayan Connections: Melting Glaciers, Sacred Landscapes and Mobile Technologies in a Changing Climate" (HimalConnect) will first conduct an in-depth investigation of the management strategies deployed in Limi, in Nepal’s impoverished Humla District. The project then builds out from this in-depth case study to a multi-level analysis that encompasses the complexity of different geographical and temporal scales. The development of a secondary case-study in Bhutan, and of a comparative framework through interaction with scholars working in other remote and vulnerable areas in the world will provide a unique opportunity to test this approach in a wider perspective. 

Objectives

Based on case studies in Nepal and Bhutan, HimalConnect explores the questions: 

  1. How have the villagers managed their environment and responded to natural disasters in the past, and what strategies do they use at present? 
  2. How does the introduction of new roads and communication technology, as well as discourses on global climate influence how they perceive and manage their environment? 
  3. How can local knowledge about environmental threats, such as floods caused by melting glaciers, be scaled out and made relevant for environmental decision makers on different levels?

Outcomes

The results of the project will: (i) provide insight into secular and Buddhist ideas and practices of environmental management in Nepal and Bhutan; (ii) show the ways in which new technology and connectivities are mediated by culture; (iii) contribute to broader understandings of how extra-local knowledges and framings of climate change and environmental management (for example, from the state and NGOs) affect local perceptions and agency; (iv) provide a comparative overview of the importance of case study approaches to understanding multi-level environmental management; (v) develop a methodology across different contexts to explore the scalability of local strategies across the different decision-making levels of environmental management.

Financing

HimalConnect is a four-year interdisciplinary research project (April 2018-March 2022) funded by the Research Council of Norway’s NORGLOBAL-2 programme, in cooperation with the Department of Culture Studies and Oriental Languages, UiO, and Mongolia and Inner Asia Studies Unit, University of Cambridge.

Cooperation

University of Cambridge, Cicero, École Pratique des Hautes Études, University of Oregon, ICIMOD, The Mountain Institute, Limi User Group for Flood Protection, Royal University of Bhutan and Loden Cultural Programme.

Published Mar. 26, 2019 2:00 PM - Last modified Oct. 25, 2019 12:03 PM