Funded by the UK Arts & Humanities Research Council, grant reference: AH/P014577/1.
Major earthquakes seem out of the ordinary, but have repeatedly struck northern South Asia. They have killed thousands of people and done billions of dollars’ worth of damage to property, most recently in Nepal in 2015, Kashmir in 2005 and Gujarat in 2001. No wonder that governments, disaster management experts and community organisations are working to reduce earthquake risk.
But earthquakes can also have less tangible effects on society in their damage zones. Relief and reconstruction can have lasting impacts on political stability. Understanding these aspects of earthquakes can help disaster managers target interventions productively.
The Broken Ground project therefore studies several major earthquakes that took place in twentieth century South Asia, affecting modern India, Pakistan, Nepal and Myanmar.
Historical examples are valuable because we can use declassified documents to tell an intimate story about how government officials took decisions, how political parties and charitable organisations responded to the disasters, and what resulted from their work.
This might not be possible for more recent disasters, when researchers have to rely on publicly-available documents, and interviews with actors who have reputations to protect. Researching the past also offers a longer perspective, and Broken Ground tracks the impacts of political debates, urban reconstruction and building codes over the long term.
Broken Ground aims to draw out lessons for policymakers and disaster managers, as well as to contribute to academic debate.
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