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Action on Natural Disasters (AND)


The focus for this cohort of the Action on Natural Disasters (AND) programme is earthquake-induced landslides in Nepal. Landslides are a perennial hazard in Nepal that pose a particular challenge to post-earthquake disaster response.  

The cohort comprises four PhD research projects, all of which seek to learn from the 2015 earthquakes and build upon ongoing and existing long-term research and collaborations in Nepal. The projects are designed to address pressing questions around landslide risk, use new and innovative approaches, and bring together supervisory teams from multiple disciplines, including Earth Science, Geography, Engineering, Psychology, and Philosophy at Durham University. 

All projects involve an element of fieldwork within Nepal, and time on placements working with local partner organisations to maximise the quality and utility of the research. The projects also seek to benefit directly those at risk from future natural hazards, working at the community level wherever appropriate, and developing outputs that will be applicable in Nepal and beyond. 

The projects bring together students from a range of backgrounds, who interact to build a body of research that aims to reduce landslide risk in Nepal, and beyond. 



AND PhD Research Projects

Action on Natural Disasters (AND) project comprises four research projects. 


Project 1 - Rapid detection of earthquake-triggered landslides using satellite radar

Radar coherence map of central Nepal

Radar coherence map of central Nepal 

Host Department: Earth Sciences (Faculty of Science) 

Supervisors: Dr Richard Walters (Earth Sciences); Dr David Milledge (Geography); Prof Alex Densmore (Geography); Dr Dino Bellugini (UC Berkeley). 

Student: Katy Burrows 

Earthquakes that occur in mountainous areas often trigger damaging landslides that destroy buildings, block roads, and cause significant loss of life. Rapid mapping of the location and size of landslides is vital following a major earthquake so that humanitarian and governmental organisations can effectively deliver aid to stricken areas. This project aims to develop new methods to automatically detect landslides in images taken by radar satellites. These satellites can see through the clouds that often block the view of optical satellites and will enable a much faster response to future earthquake-triggered landslides. 


Project 2 - Impacts of road construction on landsliding in Nepal

Durham University monitoring equipment

Durham University monitoring equipment.

Host Department:Engineering and Computing Sciences (Faculty of Science) 

Supervisors:Prof David Toll (Engineering); Dr Nick Rosser (Geography); Dr Matthew Brain (Geography) 

Student:Samprada Pradhan 

During the monsoon season, very heavy rainfall can cause severe landslides in the mountains of the Himalaya in Nepal. The April 2015 earthquake in Nepal will have made the hill slopes weaker and more landslides are likely to follow in the monsoons over the next 5 to 10 years. Landsliding causes many problems for the roads of Nepal which become blocked by debris. This project will involve soil testing and computer modelling of landslides to investigate the effects on the roads due to landsliding caused by earthquakes or monsoon rainfall. 


Project 3 - Communicating risk to increase resilience to landslide dam bursts

The Sun Koshi landslide dam

The Sun Koshi Landslide dam.

Host Department: Geography (Faculty of Social Sciences and Health) 

Supervisors:Dr Nick Rosser (Geography); Dr Judith Covey (Psychology); Dr David Milledge (Geography); Dr Katie Oven (Geography) 

Students:Gopi Basyal 

Landslides in the Himalaya generate a significant hazard to mountain communities. Whilst much is known about the risks that landslides and their secondary impacts pose, such as landslides dams, communicating this science in a timely and effective manner to those at risk remains challenging. This project will explore current practices used community level to communicate landslide risk, and identify ways to enhance risk communication by drawing on new and innovative interdisciplinary research on landslide risk, psychology and community-based disaster risk reduction. The outputs will be an exploration of forward planning risk communication strategies, with the aim of reducing the impacts of landslides in Nepal as and when they occur. 


Project 4 - Developing simple rules to minimize co-seismic landslide hazard

Chaku after the 2015 Gorkha earthquake

Chaku after the 2015 Gorkha earthquake. 

Host Department:Philosophy (Faculty of Arts and Humanities) 

Supervisors:Prof Julian Reiss (Philosophy); Dr David Milledge (Geography); Prof Alex Densmore (Geography) 

Student:Sheena Ramkumar 

This project aims to develop ‘simple rules’ to protect communities in Nepal which continue to face landslide hazards. These rules are intended to be easily taught to those without much formal education and who might have to use them under pressure. The rules must also be shown to be ecologically rational (well-adapted to the specific structure of the environment to which they are applied).