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Background

Himalaya is the youngest and highest mountain range on Earth, which extends over a length of about 2400 km. Whilst it is one of the most active and fragile mountain chains in the world, it is home to millions of people living in northern India, northern Pakistan, Nepal, Bhutan, Tibet and parts of other Asian nations. Owing to the rugged topography, the complex geological structures, the fragile soil cover, the high intensity monsoon rainfall, the large temperature variations, and the occurrence of very large magnitude earthquake events, natural phenomena such as landslides, debris flows, soil erosion, and other mass wasting processes are very frequent in this region, which in fact are the primary cause of environmental degradation in the region.

Every year, especially during the summer monsoon period, landslide and related natural disaster events claim many lives and destroy property, infrastructure, and the environment of the Himalayas. The economic loss in landslide damage alone in this region is estimated at $1 billion per year. Li (1990) estimated that the loss of life due to landslides and related earth flow phenomena in the Himalayan Region constitutes about 30% of the world's total landslide-related damage value. The Durham Landslide Fatality Database suggests that over 1,000 people were killed in landslide events in the Himalayas in 2007 alone, which represents almost 35% of the global total. Furthermore, Petley et al. (2006) estimated that over 20,000 people were killed by landslides during the 2005 Kashmir Earthquake in Pakistan and India. Sadly, the people of the Himalayas are all too familiar with landslide hazards. These people generally live in widely-spread settlements in the fragile Himalayan terrains, and suffer more from the landslides than any other types of natural disaster.  A large number of human  settlements  on  the  Himalayas  are  situated  either  on  old  landslide  masses  or  in landslide-prone areas. As a result, a great number of people are affected by large- and small- scale landslides throughout the Himalayas, especially during rainy times.  For instance, in 1988, a huge landslide at Darbang, about 200 km west of Kathmandu in Nepal, killed 109 people and temporarily blocked Myagdi River. About 62 years before this incident, the same landslide had buried Darbang area killing about 500 people. Likewise, one of the worst landslide tragedies took place at Malpa Uttarkhand, India on 11 and 17 August 1998 resulting in death of 380 people when massive landslides washed away the entire village (Note: this figure includes 60 tourists bound for Lake Mansarovar in Tibet).  Apart from such catastrophic landslides, many small-scale slope failures go unreported, especially when they occur in remote areas of the Himalaya. Furthermore, the loss of productive lands in the hills due to landslides and related mass erosion phenomena during every rainy season, which are seldom reported unless they involve the loss of life, is so great that a quantified economic loss would probably be in the same range as for a one-off natural disaster. National infrastructures like roads, bridges, dams, hydropower stations, canals, buildings are also repeatedly damaged by landslides in this region.

A rapid rise in construction of national infrastructures including roads, hydropower stations and dams, etc. with inadequate or little consideration for the natural hazards has considerably contributed to triggering of landslides in the mountains of the Himalayas. Similarly, due to a rapid increase in population over the Himalayan hills in the last three decades, the trend of settling in comparatively hazardous areas is increasing. Thus, the rising levels of risk from the landslides triggered by hydro-meteorological variability invariably entail considerable loss of life and property losses and inflict significant damage on the vital economic system of the Himalayan nations. A further key issue is the deterioration of the ecological balance and environment of the Himalayas, most notably through excessive deforestation, soil erosion and river sedimentation. This is likely to be exacerbated by global warming, which is likely to cause increased levels of extreme climatic events. Warming is also putting many Himalayan glacial lakes in great danger of bursting, which may lead to complete destruction of downstream human settlements and the habitat to world’s rare flora and fauna. Unfortunately, however, despite the rapid climatic, geomorphological, environmental and ecological changes taking place in the Himalayas, all of which can be linked to landslide occurrences, systematic research on landslide processes and environmental changes in the Himalayas is at best in its infancy. Although some efforts have been made by the professionals and researchers from government agencies in, for example, India, Nepal, Pakistan, and Bhutan as well as from nongovernmental organizations, international agencies, and academic institutions, the areas of investigation, the methodologies adopted, and the classification criteria considered in the study differ considerably. Furthermore, there is a serious lack of knowledge transfer and research output dissemination  among  the  researchers.  Partly, this  is  because  there  are  very  few  scientific gatherings among the geoscientists, environmentalists, and engineers who are involved in Himalayan landslide and environmental research. To deal with all these issues in the Himalayan Region and to foster investigations, collaborations, discussions, and integration among the stakeholders in Himalayan landslide and environmental issues, a common forum of geoscientists, environmentalists, engineers, and stakeholders needs to be established immediately. So, all this in background, a new scientific society has been established in the name of ‘Himalayan Landslides Society’, abbreviated as ‘HiLS’.

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