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Landslides occur when large amounts of earth, rock, sand or mud flow swiftly down hill and mountain slopes. The incidence of this phenomenon, usually triggered by natural hazards such as earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, heavy rain storms or cyclones, is increasing due to modern land-use practices, climate change and deforestation.
The impact of a landslide can be extensive, including loss of life, destruction of infrastructure, damage to land and loss of natural resources. Landslide material can also block rivers and increase the risk of floods. Deep landslides, triggered by major earthquakes or volcanic activity can destroy thousands of square kilometres of land and kill thousands of people. Landslides have a devastating effect on farmers’ livelihoods as they can prevent access to land for years, destroy seed and food stocks and will commonly result in the loss of livestock and standing crops.
Livelihoods and natural resources need to be quickly re-established after a landslide. FAO ensures timely stabilization of the affected site – to ensure that farmers may begin replanting – and provides the seeds and agricultural tools necessary to establish vegetation. At the same time that immediate recovery activities are being implemented, FAO also promotes watershed management and forest conservation activities to prevent soil erosion in order to reduce future landslides. In addition, FAO conducts appropriate risk and hazard assessment and mapping, and diversifies vegetation cover types and crop species to strengthen farmers’ resilience by diversifying their livelihoods and reducing landslide risk.
After Tropical Storm Stan in 2005, landslides caused the watersheds in Guatemala to collapse. FAO distributed different species of seeds and agricultural tools to enable farmers to begin planting, and also worked closely with the Guatemalan Government on an adapted national watershed strategy that would prevent future landslides.
FAO supported forest-related rehabilitation efforts following landslides and earthquakes in Thailand, the Philippines and Pakistan as forest cover helps stabilize slopes. In many countries communities are also converting more and more hillside forest land into farmlands to produce more food. Motivating land users to implement the most appropriate adapted management strategies is therefore important to prevent landslides – FAO focuses on building the capacity of rural people through training and education with awareness campaigns on landslide disasters, good watershed management practices, as well as conservation agriculture practices.
FAO is a member of the International Consortium on Landslides that established the International Programme on Landslides, a joint programme working to strengthen research and learning on landslides and sustainable disaster management.