News Release 

PSU professor awarded $300K grant to study long-term impacts of Nepal's 2015 earthquake

Portland State University

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IMAGE: Jeremy Spoon, an associate professor of anthropology at Portland State University, shares results with local government representatives during research return workshops in November 2017. view more 

Credit: Courtesy of Jeremy Spoon

More than four years since a massive 7.8 magnitude earthquake devastated Nepal, killing nearly 9,000 and destroying hundreds of thousands of homes and buildings, much of the world's attention has moved on. But a Portland State University professor is returning to the Himalayan nation for a fourth time since the earthquake hit to better understand how households recover from natural disasters.

Jeremy Spoon, an associate professor of anthropology in PSU's College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, has been awarded a three-year, $353,552 grant from the National Science Foundation. The grant begins January 2020. The team includes Drew Gerkey, an assistant professor of anthropology from Oregon State University, specialists from Nepal, and students.

Spoon's work will build on a previous NSF RAPID grant, where Spoon's team tracked the impacts and recovery trajectories of 400 households in four communities at about nine months, 1.5 years, and 2.5 years after the April 2015 earthquake. This grant covers years five through seven and will collect quantitative and qualitative data from the same 400 households through community meetings, household surveys, in-depth interviews and focus groups.

"We don't have a very good idea of how far-reaching the effects of these events can be on livelihoods, institutional frameworks, abilities to self-govern or be governed by others, social connectivity, and local knowledge associated with the place," Spoon said.

Spoon, who has conducted research in Nepal since 2004, said it's important to see how a community responds both in the immediate aftermath and the years following a disaster. The lessons learned can be applied not only in Nepal but in other parts of the world and can help government and aid agencies better understand local needs and improve preparedness, aid delivery and reconstruction efforts. The team purposely created a model that can be replicable to other disasters while at the same time catering to a specific context.

"All households in the study had their houses damaged or destroyed and their lives significantly impacted, so we're looking at how much different variables matter in recovery -- whether they live close or far from the road, whether they received aid, whether they were displaced, whether they run businesses or rely on farming and herding," Spoon said. "We're trying to look at the multidimensional nature of recovery: What drives it? What causes the changes in it? What causes households to bounce back to where they were before or transform?"

In their initial research, the team found that opportunities and challenges differed among the four communities -- conditions were getting better for some, and worse for others. The more accessible settlements near roads disproportionately received assistance compared to the less accessible settlements, which relied more on each other to begin rebuilding. It appeared that some of these households with less outside aid and more mutual cooperation recovered quicker, while households that were more exposed to landslides and relied on natural resources had significant difficulties recovering. Some residents could continue tending to their fields and livestock, while others relocated to displacement camps or had to leave for other regions, cities and abroad for jobs. Some relocated households had to resort to using pesticides to stave off insects, a contrast to their original organic farming practices.

Overall, Spoon said, the research found that there were significant changes over the shorter-term which could indicate the start of social transformations. This will be explored further with the new research.

Outreach with people from the communities, local government and non-governmental organizations was key to the first phrase and will continue to play an important role in gathering feedback and sharing findings.

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