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Making a Lasting Difference through Sustained Efforts: Aizawl's Story

Updated: Jul 6, 2022

When our team arrived in Aizawl, India over 10 years ago, they were impressed by the beauty of the remote city, but also by its extreme risk. Aizawl’s steep, unstable slopes pose a serious threat to this growing, thriving city. Multi-story construction is typical (see photo below).

Deadly and damaging landslides affect Aizawl each year. The city is located in India's highest earthquake hazard zone, and strong shaking would set off hundreds to thousands of landslides. Increasingly intense rainfall makes slopes more prone to sliding.

In 2013, we (GHI) began working alongside local leaders and experts to address this extreme risk. We took a long-term approach in supporting the city. Through sustained efforts, each step continues to build upon prior work. Today, we're looking back to reflect on progress and successes. Here are some highlights of Aizawl’s journey so far:

2013: GHI hires local Mitigation Officer Lalrinpuii Tlau who coordinates GHI assistance with government agencies – state Disaster Management & Rehabilitation Department, line departments, and the Aizawl Municipal Corporation – to build capacities to manage risk and inform the public. She still has this role today, and has grown into a strong resilience advocate for her city.

2013: GHI, in collaboration with specialized experts, creates a scenario of a credible M7.0 earthquake and landslides. Just as this work is taking off, the Laipuitlang landslide (photo above) kills 17 people, propelling the city into action. Our transdisciplinary team estimates scenario impacts and co-develops solutions with local partners and the newly-created Aizawl Landslide Policy Committee. The scenario’s mix of narrative and science clarifies issues for decision-makers.

2014: The Landslide Policy Committee finalizes an action plan to prevent or remediate landslides. GHI advises. The plan indicates expected timelines and specifies who is responsible for specific tasks. The Committee also finalizes site development regulations, drafted with GHI support, that protect slope stability (practices for cutting, grading, clearing, drainage, and construction). For the first time, a geotechnical report is mandated for a building permit in many areas.

2014-2017: GHI, in partnership with Lettis Consultants International and the maps committee of Aizawl, develops landslide hazard maps. The maps allow the city to enforce site development regulations at the parcel level. Aizawl’s landslide hazard maps are the first at 1:5000 scale for a municipality in India.

2016: GHI leads intensive geology field courses and engineering training for local geologists, engineers, officials, professors, and geology students to assess local landslide risk and identify vulnerabilities. They gain deeper technical knowledge of Aizawl's complex landslide hazard and methods to reduce risk.

2017: The Government of Mizoram formally adopts site development and slope modification regulations for Aizawl. Without such controls, development would continue to destabilize slopes, such as the excavation-triggered slope failure shown above. These regulations are essential, as the population of 300,000 (per 2011 census) is projected to more than double by 2030.

2021: Aizawl fills two newly-created government posts for geologists that will advise on excavation safety for new construction. It’s a long process to create and approve new posts in any government department. Aizawl is now able to sustainably implement the new regulations. Shown above, Aizawl's leaders explain the purpose and importance of the slope modification regulations during a TV program aired throughout the state.

Timeline showing Aizawl's progress on landslide resilience over the last 10+ years.

Looking back, it’s incredible to see the progress. This city has reached milestone after milestone despite the challenges, and their journey towards a safer future continues. India’s National Disaster Management Agency recognized Aizawl as an example for hill towns across the country. It’s the only city in India with municipal geologists that guide the city towards safer development. It’s also the only Indian city with slope modification regulations and detailed landslide hazard maps to enforce regulations. Bravo!

We are proud to be a technical partner and advisor to the people in this amazing city as they make progress on disaster resilience. These efforts over the years highlight what it takes to make a lasting difference—persistence, sustained efforts, and genuine local engagement.

Thank you for supporting us on this journey,

Veronica Cedillos, President & CEO

GeoHazards International

Bhutan · Dominican Republic · Haiti · India · Nepal · U.S.A.


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