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Social-ecological vulnerability to climate change in the Nepali Himalaya

Pandey, Rishikesh, Bardsley, Douglas K.
Applied geography 2015 v.64 pp. 74-86
assets, basins, climate, climate change, cold, ecological zones, geography, households, interviews, investment planning, issues and policy, livelihood, people, villages, weather, Himalayan region, Nepal
The climate sensitive social-ecological systems of the Nepali Himalaya are increasingly exposed to the impacts of rapid climate change. As a result, the changing climate is negatively impacting upon livelihoods of the region. Effective adaptation responses could reduce the negative impacts of change, and assessments of vulnerability of local social-ecosystems are helping to initiate that process. However, insufficient research has assessed climate change-induced vulnerability of Nepali Himalayan social-ecosystems at different scales. This study measures the vulnerability of social-ecosystems at the household level and within three village clusters of the Kaligandaki Basin in the Central Himalaya, Nepal. The clusters represent different ecological zones: Meghauli in the hot and wet tropical Tarai; Lumle in the cool, wet temperate Middle-Mountains; and Upper-Mustang in the cold and dry Trans-Himalaya. Data on the exposure, sensitivity and adaptive capacity of the social-ecosystems were collected through face-to-face interviews with 360 households. Exposure, sensitivity and adaptive capacity sub-indices were calculated and integrated to develop the vulnerability indices. The social-ecosystems reveal significant levels of exposure to climate change and are sensitive to change and extreme weather events, but limited capacities to adapt across all spatial scales result in very high social-ecological vulnerability. Yet, there is variation in the levels of vulnerability across the households, primarily because of different non-climatic factors such as the livelihood assets that a household commands. Given that many Nepali households have very limited adaptive capacities, the country requires an adaptation policy to address the needs of the most vulnerable households through a ‘poor people first’ approach, before adaptation planning and investment is extended gradually to reduce the vulnerability of social-ecosystems across the country.