UCL Institute for Risk and Disaster Reduction


Dealing with Environmental Hazards in Border Conflict Zones: Insights from Turtuk, India

2 October 2017

The Hindu Kush Himalaya (HKH) region provides basic livelihoods to a population of around 210 million, and the river basins provide water to around a fifth of the world's population.

The HKH extends into eight countries - Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, China, India, Myanmar, Nepal, and Pakistan, and is sometimes called the 'Third Pole' as it contains the world's largest ice and snow concentration outside of the poles. The region is home to many of the world's tallest mountains and is extremely vulnerable to earthquakes, landslides, floods, and drought. The catastrophic climatic events are becoming more intense due to changes in precipitation and runoff patterns. Around 31% of the population lives below the poverty line and outmigration is highest in the world in this region. The communities also have a prolonged history of internal conflicts and wars, and border incursions and insurgency, which has left them divided across borders, with militarised infrastructure and internal migration. These all have the potential to increase community vulnerability as they disrupt social cohesion. 

A forensic workshop was organized by the UCL Institute for Risk and Disaster Reduction (IRDR) in association with the University of Jammu to understand how a community deals with all these various challenges. As a case study, Turtuk, the northernmost village in India was selected. The village is located in Leh district of Jammu and Kashmir state and on the banks of the Shyok River. The village is highly vulnerable to catastrophic flooding and landslide disasters (e.g. the 2010 Ladakh and 2015 flooding) and also a focal point of cross-border conflicts. Turtuk was a part of Pakistan before the Indo-Pakistani War of 1971. Hence, Turtuk sets up the picture-perfect context to analyse the vulnerabilities linked to extreme mountain environment, migration, disasters, climate change, livelihood interruption, and wars and border conflicts.

The workshop was held from 6-7 July 2017 as part of the project activity 'Increasing Resilience to Environmental Hazards in Border Conflict Zones' funded by the NERC, ESRC and AHRC. An interdisciplinary team of natural, social and historical scientists, together with members of the community, participated to understand the major historic events in the context of social capital, vulnerabilities and their development. Around 40 local people from the community, including school teachers, senior citizens, politicians, health care practitioners, Army officers, graduate students, farmers, and others participated in the workshop. Three participatory rural appraisal tools, namely the timeline diagram, hazard mapping, and dream mapping, were applied to understand community risk perception of environmental hazards in a border conflict zone.


The participants were divided into four groups: women only, men only, politicians, and administrative, to delineate the differences and similarities on their views and opinions. The community's people and concerned key informants shared ideas, defined problems, mapped risk zones, determined priorities, suggested solutions and depicted future aspirations through active focus group discussions and collaborative activities.


Professor Peter Sammonds, Bayes Ahmed, Professor Kavita Suri, Naomi Saville, Virginie Le Masson, Tsering Jolden, Gulzar Hussain, Kuenga Wangmo, and Sonja Muller facilitated the workshop. The workshop findings suggest that it is possible to extract community views and incorporate these into decision-making for building resilience in the context of disasters and conflicts, through applying community-based participatory tools and techniques.

Further details on the project and workshop outcome can be found at: 



Point of contact: Professor Peter Sammonds (Email: p.sammonds@ucl.ac.uk)