Preparedness and planning for the mountain hazard and risk chain in Nepal

Lead Research Organisation: University of Oxford
Department Name: Geography - SoGE


Nearly 1 bn people live in mountain landscapes within developing countries. Living with the impacts of multiple hazards in mountainous regions, such as monsoon rainfall, earthquakes and landsliding, is for many a day-to-day reality. Both the short- and long-term impacts of hazards are often exaggerated by their concurrent or sequential timing, and by the socio-political context in which they occur. This context results from fragmented government, rapid population change, and the very localized impacts of global (geo)political interests. As a result, hazards have recurring and disproportionate impacts on some of the most vulnerable members of society. While much research has been conducted on both the socio-political context and the individual hazards and risks that people face, this work is rarely used for disaster risk management.

Aims & objectives
To tackle this, we build on our existing long-standing collaborations with the aim of examining how best to develop and use new interdisciplinary science to help inform better decision making and reduce the impacts of multi-hazards in mountain countries. We focus on Nepal, which has many similarities to other lower-income countries that endure complex multi-hazards resulting from earthquakes and monsoon rainfall as well as emerging systemic risks. Nepal is also undergoing complex social, political and economic transformation associated with a change to a federal system of government and changing geopolitical pressures, all within a hazardous yet densely populated landscape.

The objectives of our research are each designed to make a significant difference to the ways in which residents, government, and the international community take decisions to manage multi-hazards and systemic risks. They include:

(1) Thinking critically about our current understanding of the social, political, economic and environmental context within which disasters occur in Nepal, and the data that we use to assess that context;

(2) Establishing a new approach to national-scale strategic-planning for complex multi-hazard events, which includes the consequences of linked earthquakes, monsoons and landslides;

(3) Developing interdisciplinary science to anticipate, plan for, and communicate the range of hazards that occur during the monsoon; and

(4) Finding the best ways to utilise local knowledge and interdisciplinary science to inform how to prepare for and respond to multi-hazard disasters.

Potential applications and benefit
To achieve our objectives, we bring together a team of Nepali and international researchers from a range of disciplines, including geoscience, social science and the humanities, who have track records in various facets of this issue. Together, we aim to: (1) develop new fundamental data and evidence to underpin decision-making, (2) establish pathways for getting the best possible information to those who need it, in a format and timeframe that are useful and usable, (3) think critically about how multi-hazards and risks can be effectively managed, and (4) nurture an environment that supports the young researchers and practitioners who will be the future of disaster risk management in Nepal.

We ground our proposal within the context of our long-term community-based work with rural residents in Nepal, and reflect upon their articulations of the need to make better decisions to reduce the risks that they face. We also build upon our work on managing risks with the Government of Nepal and the United Nations, who coordinate disaster planning in the country. The Government, UN, and major development and humanitarian organisations have been involved from the outset in developing this proposal to ensure an agile, joined-up, evidence-based approach to multi-hazard and risk management.

Planned Impact

Our research stems directly from knowledge gaps articulated by our partners in Nepal, including residents, local and central government, the UN, and humanitarian and development practitioners. The research is intended to benefit five specific groups:

1) Our primary goal is to positively impact residents living with systemic risk. We seek to better understand the socio-political and economic processes that affect everyday lives and through which systemic risk is produced and in which multi-hazards are experienced, using a co-produced and interdisciplinary approach. Our work will impact those tasked with managing risk to focus on the everyday needs of residents and ensure that efforts to reduce risk are placed within the appropriate physical and socio-political contexts. Where resources or capacity are lacking, we will work to enable local government to support residents to collectively manage their own risk by building on their own knowledge and providing new knowledge to support planning, forecasting, and messaging. We will also provide innovative means of messaging, using locally produced radio dramatisations, to exploit our new interdisciplinary science to improve decision-making, working with local people and local government to make this as effective as possible.

2) The UN Resident Coordinator's Office (RCO) and Humanitarian Country Team (HCT) are tasked with planning preparedness and response to major disasters, but this planning has had a limited scientific basis and concentrates on narrowly-defined impacts of earthquakes and flooding. There remains no consideration of dynamic multi-hazard scenarios and the risks they generate. Our project will benefit the RCO and HCT by grounding their plans in interdisciplinary science and by building greater awareness of the socio-political and physical context in which their planning sits, allowing cross-sectoral decisions that consider the impacts associated with multi-hazard events and evaluate the multi-temporal variation in risk caused by changing population exposure and vulnerability. The development of novel protocols to prepare for and respond to multi-hazard disasters will enable the RCO and HCT to make better, more effective use of local knowledge and interdisciplinary science.

3) Our previous work in Nepal has identified capacity gaps in government agencies at national, provincial and, most importantly, municipal levels. These gaps reflect a lack of understanding of the dynamic nature of the hazard chain and a lack of viable options for managing the consequent risk. Our project will benefit government risk management by significantly increasing capacity through developing and embedding a system for monitoring multi-hazard risk, and by situating this understanding within a broader socio-political context. We will engage with municipal government through existing networks and capacity-building programmes. This proposal is highly timely, coinciding with Nepal's transition to a new federal structure, allowing the research team to feed directly into new governance structures as they form.

4) Through the Community-Based Disaster Risk Management Platform, our work will have direct impact on the NGOs that implement disaster risk reduction projects. We will co-produce guidance on the use of local and scientific knowledge for reducing risk from the mountain hazard chain, as well as ethical and practical guidance for researchers on working with practitioners in Nepal.

5) The ethos of our project is based around developing the next generation of hazard and risk specialists in Nepal. We will support 15 early-career researchers, with 9 employed in Nepal. We will convene workshops specifically around skills and professional development for these researchers, and will also invite early-career professionals from our government, NGO, and UN project partners to provide the foundations for the future leaders of this sphere of work in Nepal.


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