Increasing Resilience to Environmental Hazards in Border Conflict Zone

Lead Research Organisation: University College London
Department Name: Inst for Risk and Disaster Reduction


This foundation research proposal focuses on building resilience in a frontier conflict zone subject to multiple environmental hazards. Its rationale is that resilience can be addressed through understanding the hazard risks and the heightened vulnerabilities of the people only in the context of knowledge of the history of disasters and analysis of the impact of conflict on social relations.

The Hindu-Kush Himalaya region is home to over 200 million people. The mountains are the source of the major rivers of Asia which support 1.3 billion people. The landscape of the Himalaya is a result of a continuing competition between on the one hand collision of tectonic plates, which has raised the Himalaya mountains, and on the other gravity, which causes erosion. Eroded sediments are deposited by glaciers and rivers. The high rate of these processes of uplift, erosion and sedimentation creates a highly dynamic environment which causes earthquakes, landslides, floods, excess temperatures, wind and snow storm and drought. This fragile environment is subject to rapid regional climate change and affected by uneven development (including high levels of seasonal tourism). These environmental hazards impact lives, livelihoods and critical infrastructure.
Within the region, Kashmir covers the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir (subdivided into Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh), the Pakistan state of Azad Jammu and Kashmir and the territory of Gilgit-Baltistan, and the Chinese-administered territory of Aksai Chin. The recent history of Kashmir is of over-lapping territorial claims of three nuclear powers, China, India and Pakistan (with the world's first, third and sixth largest armies), war and resolution (in 1947, 1962, 1965 and 1999), but with on-going internal conflict, border incursions and insurgency, which has led to communities divided across borders, militarised infrastructure and internal migration.

These all have the potential to increase community vulnerability as they disrupt social relations.
The project will focus on Ladakh. It was the scene of the most recent Indo-Pakistan war, the 1999 Kargil War, and has suffered cross-border infiltration from Pakistan and Afghanistan and incursions from China (e.g., across the Pangong Lake in 2014) which have intersected with internal tensions between communities. The official languages of Ladakh are Ladakhi, Tibetan, Urdu and Balti, with most Ladakhi being either Tibetan Buddhist or Shia Muslim, reflecting the mixed social and ethnic constitution of Ladakh. Population dynamics, economic growth and mass tourism are generating pressure on natural resources with migration and uncertain agricultural production modifying familial and village relationships and nomadic communities (i.e., the social capital). Ladakh experiences frequent major floods and landslides. These are locally well recognised and will help us engage with communities on multi-hazard approaches and infrequent hazard events.

In a joint project between the natural, social and historical sciences we will examine the historical evolution of the landscape of the Himalaya, the drivers of hazards and the effect of human impact. We will assess the vulnerabilities and social relations of communities in Ladakh, their cross-borders links, relations with other communities and migration. We will analyse the history of disasters, in the broader Kashmir region, the cultural and political development of the region, and assess the impact of conflict on resilience and adaptation.

The outcome of this project will be an understanding, in the historical context of a border conflict zone, how changing social relations increase or decrease social capital and vulnerability to environmental hazard risks. It is a key aim to build partnerships between researchers and practitioners across disciplines, across the Hindu Kush-Himalaya and with policy-makers, engineers, educators, NGOs, local communities, businesses and schools.

Planned Impact

1. Policy-makers
It is a key aim of this foundation proposal to develop partnerships with policy-makers at national, state and district levels in India. India has a sophisticated National Policy on Disaster Management, with decentralized disaster management, and a vision to "build a safe and disaster resilient India by developing a holistic, proactive, multi-disaster oriented and technology driven strategy through a culture of prevention, mitigation, preparedness and response". In the frame of this foundation project, we will seek to understand the processes and mechanisms operating and to influence aspects of disaster management planning.

At a national level, over the long term, our research would influence guidelines for disaster management issued by the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) of India. Our research should bring new understanding of social capital in border-zone and migrant communities.

At a state level, since, our research will support the development of the Jammu and Kashmir State disaster management plans. In particular, our gathering and consolidating of environmental hazard data will be a valuable resource. Our work on education will consider effective strategies for communicating understanding of disaster risks to school students.

At a district level our detailed work on environmental hazard risks in relation to local communities will support the development and updating of local disaster management plans. The information would be made available quickly and to could have immediate benefit.

2. Engineering and project consultancies
The project will aim to impact infrastructure engineering, project evaluation, design and management and land-use planning and management. Our project team includes two engineering consultancies (see letters of support) as partners.

Atkins is one of the world's largest engineering and project consultancies and is responsible for projects in the HKH region. Hearn Geoserve is a specialist consultancy that has optimised the development of landslide susceptibility maps for planning purposes in the Himalaya and developed guidelines on how rural communities should best manage their land and livelihoods to minimise their exposure to landslides and related hazards. Both of these have extensive experience working in the Himalaya. They will join the scene-setting London Scenario Workshop, contribute expertise and contribute to the project final report.

The engineering consultancies will benefit from the co-produced approach on how the evolving landscape influences the hazard drivers (including in that the role of environmental change) and an understanding of the different vulnerabilities of peoples in border conflict zones.

3. Local communities
Our project would directly impact the local communities in the research areas, and in particular schools and school students. We would raise awareness of environmental hazards, disaster risk reduction and response strategies in the frame of the project. In particular our understanding of the social relations will assist in shaping communication and education strategies.

In the longer term, a key aim of this project is to establish a stakeholder community of users and beneficiaries which would also include local leaders, development practitioners, technical specialists, educators and students, NGOs and businesses (including farming and tourism). This stakeholder community would include representatives of resident and migratory peoples. We would raise awareness of environmental hazards, but also work with them on environmental impacts and mitigation strategies.


10 25 50
Description The importance of the context of conflict in disaster risk reduction particularly in relation to DAC countries with India as a case study.
How community-based resilience approach can be introduced into disaster management planning which supports sustainable development.
Exploitation Route The outcomes will influence the development of disaster management plans in DAC countries which supports their sustainable development.
They will influence local community resilience.
Sectors Government, Democracy and Justice

Description The research has impacted the disaster management plan of Ladakh, India. Gender disaggregated data was collected in accordance with the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction so disaster management planning could take into account the different ways women and men are affected. Research teams and research participants were gender-balanced and diverse as far as the local context would allow.
First Year Of Impact 2017
Sector Government, Democracy and Justice
Impact Types Policy & public services

Description Ladakh Disaster Management Plan
Geographic Reach Asia 
Policy Influence Type Contribution to a national consultation/review
Impact Drew up proposals for revision of the Ladakh Disaster Management Plan.
Description Collaboration with the University of Jammu 
Organisation University of Jammu
Country India 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution We conducted joint physical and social science field work.
Collaborator Contribution We conducted joint physical and social science field work. They ran the Schools Education Programme which we joined.
Impact A special issue of the International Journal for Disaster Risk Reduction is in preparation.
Start Year 2017
Description Community Workshop, Turk 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Workshop to draw on community views of building resilience to environmental hazards.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
Description International Workshop in Increasing Resilience to Environmental Hazards, Leh, Ladakh, India, 2017 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact A joint workshop between UCL IRDR and University of Jammu Institute of Energy Research and Training (IERT) was held in Leh, India from 9 -11 July 2017. Researchers, practitioners, policy makers, students, and the interested public discussed field activities, prominent challenges, and resilience strategies at local, regional, and international scales. Stakeholders and academics from the district, state, and the wider Hindu Kush Himalaya region highlight knowledge and perspectives of resident populations. The workshop successfully created a dialogue around building resilience in the Hindu Kush Himalaya region and avenues for further collaboration and action. Further details of topics discussed are included in the workshop report.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
Description Masterclass in International Development: Delivering a Schools Education Programme 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact A one-day Masterclass in International Development on Delivering a Schools' Programme:
• Linking up with schools and working with local partners in ODA countries
• Planning and logistics
• Assembling course material
• Network building and promotion
• Risk management and ethics
Practical session and seminars by practitioners experienced in delivering schools' programmes in Asia, Africa and South American on risk and resilience, natural hazards and climate change delivering education to thousands of school students
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
Description Schools Programme - Turtuk, Kargil 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact Introducing school students and teachers to disaster risk reduction through a series of talks, practical activities and cultural events. A DRR booklet for schools was produced.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
Description Sustainable Development in the Himalaya Evening Conference 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact An evening conference on sustainable development in the Himalaya:
• Unconventional Energy Resources
• Humanitarian History in the Himalaya • Tourism
• Disaster Risk Reduction
• Education Awareness Programmes
The event will feature presentations by researchers from the University of Jammu, UCL, Jindal Global University and Eni Upstream & Technical Services.
Presentations will be followed by a networking drinks reception. Development practitioners, policymakers, researchers are welcome.
UCL Humanitarian Institute Evening Conference Series on the UN Sustainable Development Goal Series is a new initiative showcasing collaborative research between the UK and developing countries.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018