Assessing vulnerability and multi-hazard risk in the Nepal Himalaya

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Virginia Tech


Communities around the world are encountering unprecedented rates of change due to population growth, land use change, development, and increased social vulnerability to natural hazards. Understanding how physical processes and human vulnerability to natural hazards interact is a primary objective of researchers, policy makers, and disaster risk reduction practitioners in order to combat increases in natural hazard frequency and intensity.

Nepal, a landlocked mountainous country spanning the central Himalayan region, has about 28 million inhabitants in 147,181 square kilometers. Nepal is exposed to a multitude of natural hazards, requiring individuals and communities to interact with and make decisions on risk acceptability on a day-to-day basis. In many cases, Nepal's geographic location, available resources (human, economic, and capital), and limited government capacity coalesce to turn natural hazards into disasters, resulting damaged infrastructure, economic disruptions, and death.

This dissertation evaluates the geographic distribution of natural hazard mortality, quantifies social vulnerability to natural hazards, and models multi-hazard risk in the data deficient environment of Nepal. Chapter 1 conceptualizes relevant terms such as natural hazards, disaster, vulnerability, and risk before discussing the challenges associated with multi-hazard risk assessment in Nepal. Chapter 2 evaluates the spatial and temporal distribution of natural hazard mortalities at the village level using a publicly available disaster database. Results reveal that landslides were the deadliest disasters between 1971-2011. Chapter 3 identifies major social factors and processes that contribute to the vulnerability of individuals and communities using census data. Adapting the Social Vulnerability Index (SoVI) method developed for the US context, this chapter investigates the spatial distribution and clustering of various social vulnerabilities across the country. 'Renter and Occupation', 'Poverty and Poor Infrastructure', and 'Favorable Social Conditions' are three major components that influence social vulnerability in Nepal. Results indicate an interesting regional difference: the eastern and central Tarai are more vulnerable than western Tarai, whereas the eastern Hills and Mountains are less vulnerable than western Hills and Mountains. In Chapter 4, a model of risk from multiple natural hazards in the city of Dharan, Nepal, is presented. Freely available geospatial data in combination with socio-economic data collected from local government and secondary sources are used. Multi-hazard risk assessment is data intensive and requires considerable financial and human resources, which are lacking in Nepal. Results show that geospatial modeling techniques can be used to fill the gap and assist local officers and emergency managers in risk management.

Cumulatively, this work offers new insights on natural hazards, vulnerability, risk, the use of geospatial technologies, and their inter-relationships. Research findings advance scholarly understandings of multi-hazard risk in general and particularly in the Nepali context. Additionally, this work is valuable to disaster practitioners who seek to implement more effective disaster risk reduction programs and policies.



Natural hazards, vulnerability, resilience, risk assessment, geospatial analysis, Nepal, Himalaya, disaster