Grappling with the Tyranny of Distance: Scuffles with roads, landslides, and sustainability in Nepal

Authors: Robert Beazley*, Cornell University
Topics: Sustainability Science, Asia, Political Geography
Keywords: Nepal, roads, sustainability, infrastructure, Himalaya
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/4/2019
Start / End Time: 9:55 AM / 11:35 AM
Room: 8212, Park Tower Suites, Marriott, Lobby Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


In the 1960s the first motorized route from Kathmandu to Tibet, named the Arniko Highway, was built with Chinese aid. In December 2014, a second route connecting Kathmandu to Tibet in Rasuwa, named the Pasang Lhamu Highway, was completed again with Chinese aid. In 2015, both routes were rendered impassable by the Gorkha Earthquake Sequence. Since that time countless machine and manpower hours and money have been spent on trying to rehabilitate both highways but seasonal monsoons have continued to force closures every year. While both highways are part of the Strategic Road Network and as such should have been well planned and constructed evidence suggests that their sustainability is not only in question but it also depends largely on foreign aid from China. Meanwhile rural roads, which require much less oversight, are expanding exponentially and are often impassible within several years of construction. In the Trishuli Valley (route of the Pasang Lhamu Highway) rural roads built by hydropower projects as part of their social responsibility to hydropower affected villages are largely designed and built as a result of local politics rather than sound mountain road engineering principles. This paper, based on ethnographic research along both highways in 2014-2015, explores how natural disasters can impact infrastructure and their sustainability. This research seeks to enliven and expand the discourse about infrastructure development, including roads and hydropower, and its sustainability within the context of natural disasters including earthquakes, landslides, and floods.

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