Climate-related hydrological change and human vulnerability in remote mountain regions: a case study from Khumbu, Nepal

Abstract

Inhabitants of mountainous regions in least developed countries are recognized to be among the most vulnerable to climate change globally. Despite this, human dimensions work is in its infancy in mountain regions where we have limited understanding of who is vulnerable (or adaptable), to what stresses, and why. This study develops a baseline understanding of vulnerability to climate-related hydrological changes in the mountainous Khumbu region of eastern Nepal. Using a vulnerability approach, 80 interviews combining fixed and open-ended questions were conducted in four communities representing the geographic and livelihood variability of the region. The study identifies four region-wide vulnerabilities currently affecting residents: reduced water access for household uses, declining crop yields, reduced water access for meeting the high water demands of tourists, and reduced hydro-electricity generation. These vulnerabilities are widespread among the population but arrange spatially as a function of varying exposure-sensitivity to hydrological change, livelihood opportunities, and access to foreign financial assistance. Our findings indicate that precipitation change (not glacial change) is the greatest biophysical driver of vulnerability.

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Acknowledgments

Special thanks to the Government of Nepal for their interest and support of this study; ICIMOD and WWF Nepal for perspective, recommendations, and research facilities; the Nepal Department of Parks and Wildlife Conservation for productive feedback and practical assistance; and the many individuals in Kathmandu who informed the early stages of this study. Gratitude is also expressed to the residents of Khumbu, whose hospitality and willingness to share information about their lives was extremely generous. The Department of Geography and Faculty of Science at McGill University provided financial support for this study. Thanks to two anonymous reviewers who provided constructive feedback on the article.

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Correspondence to G. McDowell.

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McDowell, G., Ford, J.D., Lehner, B. et al. Climate-related hydrological change and human vulnerability in remote mountain regions: a case study from Khumbu, Nepal. Reg Environ Change 13, 299–310 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10113-012-0333-2

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Keywords

  • Mountain regions
  • Climate change
  • Hydrology
  • Water resources
  • Vulnerability
  • Nepal
  • Khumbu
  • LDC