Accepted Paper:

Waiting for the flood: distrust, conflicting epistemologies of time, and impending disaster in Zanskar  


Karine Gagné (University of Guelph)

Paper short abstract:

This paper examines the chronology of interventions that took place between the blockade of the Tsarap river in Zanskar in 2015 and the burst of the lake it created, triggering the Phuktal flood. Conflicting epistemologies of time impacted the perception of risk associated with the flood.

Paper long abstract:

In early January 2015, a landslide in the mountains created an artificial lake of approximately 10 km on the Tsarap river in Zanskar, an isolated region of the Indian Himalayas. While the impending burst of the lake was threatening the populations downstream, experts from India's National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) were deployed to handle the situation. As a preventive measure, authorities closed the Chadar, an ice thoroughfare which is the sole means of circulation in and out of the region in winter, and a trek which has become a popular destination for adventure tourism in recent years, thus generating frustration among Zanskarpas. In this paper, I examine the chronology of events and interventions that took place between the blockade of the river and the eventual burst of the lake in spring, triggering the Phuktal flood. I focus on the various technologies considered by the NDMA to drain the lake and the alternative solutions suggested by local people. I maintain that conflicting epistemologies of time between the state and the local population were reinforced by prevailing distrust for governmental institutions in a region that has long been marginalized, ending up, ultimately, in impacting the perception of risk associated with the flood.

Panel LL-FWF03
On unstable water and its metaphors: experiencing, narrating, and contesting catastrophic hydrologies