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Mongolia and Inner Asia Studies Unit

Glacial lake outburst flood (GLOF) descending on Limi village, Nepal Credit: Astrid Hovden

An international interdisciplinary collaboration between the University of Oslo and the University of Cambridge with partners in Nepal and Bhutan explores the hazards experienced by vulnerable communities in high altitude environments as a result of climate change. Funded by the Research Council of Norway, the project is documenting the community’s historical mechanisms for environmental management to deal with different scenarios of living in a hazardous environment. These mechanisms will be examined in light of the arrival of new communication technologies and new knowledges and framing discourses around climate change and sustainable development.

'Through an exceptional confluence of events and access to centuries of historical documents, this project will explore the complexities of environmental perception and decision-making at a pivotal moment of change in a high-altitude community in the Himalaya. Limi in Humla, western Nepal is experiencing repeated glacial lake outburst floods (GLOFs) at the same time as the advent of new connectivities such as mobile telephony. Through long-term fieldwork the project is documenting the community's historical mechanisms for environmental management to deal with different scenarios of living in a hazardous environment. These mechanisms are being examined in light of the arrival of new communication technologies and new knowledges and framing discourses around climate change and sustainable development. This longitudinal exploration combines ethnography with rare access to local historical documentation from the thirteenth century to the present. Methodology developed in the primary site will be tiered out to a secondary case-study site in Bhutan to develop a comparative framework. Through a regional workshop drawing on similar case-studies this approach will be further scaled out to develop a methodology for a multi-level analysis that encompasses the complexity of different geographical and temporal scales. An international conference and on-going interaction with scholars working in other remote and vulnerable areas in the world will provide an opportunity to test this approach in a wider perspective. This project's findings will provide ground-breaking contribution to the analysis of Himalayan environmental management, while its novel methodology has the potential to alter how, and the extent to which, in-depth case studies may be scaled out to contribute to regional, national and international level analyses of human-environment interactions in the context of sustainable development, specifically key NORGLOBAL-2 thematic areas and SDG goals.

The Cambridge team includes Dr Hildegard Diemberger, Professor Bhaskar Vira and Dr Riamsara Knapp whilst the Norwegian collaborators are Professor Hanna Havnevik and Dr Astrid Hovden.

Affiliations: University of Cambridge (MIASU, Department of Social Anthropology, Pembroke College, Department of Geography); University of Oslo (Department of Culture Studies and Oriental Languages)

More information can also be found here on the University of Oslo website