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Our congratulations go to Marie-Amélie Candau for successfully defending her doctoral thesis.

Marie-Amélie’s supervisors were Olivia Aubriot, CNRS-CEH and Frédéric Landy, Université Nanterre/LAVUE-IF Pondichéry.


Title of the doctoral thesis

Flood management policy and (re)production of socio-spatial inequalities in the Koshi plain: eastern Nepalese Tarai and northern Bihar

presented by Marie-Amélie
PhD student affiliated to CEH and contributor to the ANR research project Land-Water

Jean-Paul Bravard, Université de Lyon, rapporteur
Pierre Dérioz, Université d’Avignon/Espace-Dev, rapporteur
Thierry Ruf, IRD/GRED, examiner

Floods have always been a challenge to human societies whether the latter have managed to adapt to them or not. The southern Himalayan foothills are certainly the greatest challenge to humans due to a combination of factors such as the force and irregularity of flows, the strength of this sediment-laden water, the unpredictability of variations due to erratic monsoon rains, the instability of the course of the river due to sudden slope discontinuity and the high hydraulic gradient of rivers when entering the Gangetic plain, as well as the relatively high density of the population (over 500 inhabitants/km²). The management of these rivers, long neglected due to the unique combination of these factors, has become an obsession for modern Indian and Nepalese nations who are developing this plain with a high socio-economic potential, in North Bihar and the Tarai respectively, which is indeed fundamental for Nepal. The aim of this development is to keep the capricious river flows within dikes and to divert water into irrigation canals using dams. However, the expected results are not forthcoming. In recent times flooding has increased in both frequency and duration; the areas exposed have expanded and, above all, the causes are now more diversified, which clearly indicates the failure of current management strategies. Consequently, the loss of life and property has continued to increase, culminating in the 2008 catastrophe which resulted in over thirty thousand deaths and massive damage to property and livestock. The field analysis focusing on six villages located between dikes or close to tributaries of the powerful Koshi River clearly confirms this observation which is compounded by the study of the Nepalese and Indian villages that suffered devastation in 2008. The human consequences are dramatic. There has been a staggering impoverishment of the working class, with an uncontrollable increase in the number of landless families now living in extreme destitution, with no health care, no schools, while wealthy social classes have at the same time continued to thrive. A study of the decision-making and distribution circuits reveals a semi-feudal social system, controlled by the heirs of the former "zamindars" who have remained powerful landowners influencing all development-related decisions in order to protect their own land, often at the expense of the poor. Thus, a mechanism of preferential treatment and of misappropriation of wealth has set in, with the help of a largely corrupt and clientelist political power at all decision-making levels, from the elected representative to the engineer, from the entrepreneur to the NGO, all of which is now made worse by the involvement of mafia networks. There is an obvious decline in central or regional power, with insecurity gaining the whole territory, in addition to the high level of vulnerability when faced with the risk of floods that are sterilising more and more agricultural land, and therefore threatening more and more people.