An Institutional Analysis of Glacial Floods and Disaster Risk Management in the Nepal Himalaya

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Institutional factors are rarely examined in disaster risks in the Himalayan region, as much of the focus so far has been on improving the scientific understanding of the natural hazards

Institutional factors are rarely examined in disaster risks in the Himalayan region, as much of the focus so far has been on improving the scientific understanding of the natural hazards and risks. This is particularly true for glacial lake outburst floods (GLOFs), which are natural hazards endemic to high mountain ranges such as the Andes, Alps, and Himalayas. While these have put mountain communities at risk for centuries, vulnerability is viewed to be increasing due to climate change. While the science behind the causes and characteristics of these hazards is now better understood, there is an absence of research understanding the social, cultural and institutional drivers behind creating effective strategies to mitigate risks from GLOFs. This is more so for the Himalayan region, where institutions have recently started to address this risk, but contention between local communities and external organizations can hinder mitigation efforts. To better understand how people’s perception towards disaster risk, a study conducted by Sherpa et al. (2019) examined the socio-economic and cultural perceptions surrounding GLOF hazards.

This research highlighted gaps in how scientific knowledge is disseminated to local communities, and the resulting distrust in government mitigation projects such as lake lowering and Early Warning Systems. A clear need developed to conduct an institutional analysis of the governance systems responsible for disaster risk management and their interaction with local communities. This study examines the institutional conditions under which mountain communities create effective adaptation strategies to address climate induced hazards. We use a mixed-methods approach, combining: a) quantitative analysis of household surveys collected in 2016-2017 and b) qualitative analysis that maps out the various factors of institutions that influence the success of community-based adaptation efforts. Additionally, GLOF case studies from Nepal are compared to those in Peru, where institutions have a longer history of managing GLOF risks. The research finds that there are several considerations including: lack of cross-scalar communication networks, lack of local knowledge and participation in policy processes, and ineffective interorganizational coordination of knowledge sharing and funding streams for local projects. This disconnect between external versus local and informal institutions becomes an inherent issue in projects where agenda setting by external organizations plays prevalent roles in project implementation.