Community vulnerability and resilience in disaster risk reduction: an example from Phojal Nalla, Himachal Pradesh, India

Abstract

International Disaster Risk Reduction Frameworks and Indian Plans advocate shared responsibility for reducing disaster risk, in which community vulnerability and resilience conditions are central. This paper presents a case study from the Indian Himalaya (Kullu District) of community vulnerability and resilience conditions following damaging floods, primarily the 1994 Phojal Nalla flood, through the concepts of community heritage and capital. Data were collected in the period 2013–2016, using semi-structured interviews (n = 129), village reconnaissance and archival/contemporary data searches. The connections between heritage, capital, vulnerability and resilience are complex, but results demonstrate ‘knowledge’ is the principal driver of resilience conditions, via facets of heritage (e.g. religious infrastructure and activities, traditional architectural vernacular, and multi-generational attachments to place) and capital (e.g. income diversification, access to communication technologies, societal welfare measures and positive interactions with water). Persisting vulnerabilities stem from differential access to and implementation of best practice knowledge, governed by social, economic and political conditions. Further improvements in risk reduction require greater consideration of the following: (1) the integration of community local knowledge into the overall disaster management process; (2) the opportunities offered by mobile phone and other technologies for generating and sharing knowledge across society; and (3) the value of under-utilised knowledge of past disaster events, assembled from a systematic evaluation of oral, documentary and landscape evidence, to risk reduction.

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Acknowledgments

Thanks to the following: local communities, Kesar Chand, Jagdish Kuniyal, Pushpam Kumar, Shekhar Kumar, Brij Mohan, Dev Sharma, Devi Singh, Mehru Thakur and GeoIndia Ltd. The views expressed are those of the authors.

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Funding is from Bath Spa University and the Santander Universities Scheme.

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Correspondence to Richard Michael Johnson.

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Johnson, R.M., Edwards, E., Gardner, J.S. et al. Community vulnerability and resilience in disaster risk reduction: an example from Phojal Nalla, Himachal Pradesh, India. Reg Environ Change 18, 2073–2087 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10113-018-1326-6

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Keywords

  • Heritage
  • Capital
  • Vulnerability and resilience
  • Disaster risk reduction
  • Flood hazard
  • Indian Himalaya