UA Doctoral Student Bound for Nepal

Bhuwan Thapa has been involved in raising relief funds and also in research into water and food security in his home country, which is rebuilding from the devastating April earthquake.

Soon after Katmandu native Bhuwan Thapa learned that he had received a three-year research grant from the Nepal-based International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development, a massive earthquake and numerous aftershocks struck his home country and the central area where he would conduct his research.

Thapa, a doctoral student in the UA School of Geography and Development, initially focused on how climate variability and change shape water and food security. But the April earthquake and its aftermath have resulted in a slight shift in his focus.

"While I have wanted to understand the adaptation in water-resources management by small farmers and the implications of their actions on water security, I now realize the absolute necessity of incorporating the risk perspective," said Thapa, who leaves this week to launch his research.

A risk perspective gives consideration to ways farmers face and respond to floods, landslides, earthquakes, limited access to a workforce and other issues, Thapa said.

"It is only recently that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change 5th Assessment Report explicitly framed threat of climate change from the perspective of risk to human and natural systems," he said. "Now I am planning to incorporate the resilience of the farmers against natural disasters."

In addition to the research, Thapa and other members of the UA Nepalese Student Association have been raising relief funds for communities in Nepal that are rebuilding. The association organized a run and walk to benefit the Nepal Earthquake Fund.

Thapa, the association's president, said that more than $2,300 has been raised so far. Two members who are UA doctoral students have helped. Ulina Shakya has distributed food to more than 50 families in Nuwakot and Ramesh Mainali, with local support, has distributed zinc sheet to build temporary shelters for dozens of families in Kavrepalanchowk.

The destruction resulted in an estimated 8,800 deaths, tens of thousands of injuries and a massive outmigration. 

"The event has been a historical calamity for the country in all aspects, including human casualities and structural damage," said Thapa, also a graduate research associate at the Udall Center for Studies in Public Policy.

While in Nepal, Thapa will launch his project, "Pathways to Resilience: Adaptation in Agriculture and Water Management to Changing Climate in the Gandaki River Basin." The International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development provided nearly $135,000 to support his dissertation research.

"After completing two years of doctoral study, Bhuwan was set to spend two summer months in Nepal to conduct preliminary fieldwork toward his dissertation research. Now, six weeks after the earthquake, he is set to go. But the disaster has changed everything for Bhuwan," said Robert Varady, deputy director at the Udall Center.

"He will be returning to a devastated country and a situation that has significantly altered his outlook and forced him to rethink his understanding of water security," Varady said. "And while adjusting, he will no doubt use his expertise to help his fellow Nepalese."

Thapa also will conduct research this summer as part of his Southwest Climate and Society Graduate Fellowship granted by the Climate Assessment for the Southwest, known as CLIMAS. For CLIMAS, he will investigate how Nepalese farmers manage irrigation systems, particularly when met with hydroclimatic and socioeconomic challenges. He plans to return to Tucson in August.

Thapa acknowledged that the earthquake has caused significant threats to food security and reduced the access to quality water. No large-scale assessment has been completed, but there are reports of extensive damage to rural markets, irrigation canals and food collection centers, he said.

"There is enormous destruction of infrastructure for basic services including roads, water supply, irrigation and hospitals," Thapa said, adding that rural areas have been especially hard hit. "Many underground water supply pipes are broken, causing water leakages and contamination."

Thapa's research could help inform the recovery of irrigation systems and suggest changes and improvements to ensure food security.

"This is a major disaster for the country," he said. "People from all over the country have opened their hearts to support the cause.

"It is so inspiring to see how Nepalese youths, the Nepal Army and Nepal Police, and international rescue workers have stepped up to support the affected communities. Many mountainous communities have demonstrated their resilience to these natural disasters, by promptly getting back to reconstruction and agricultural chores. There are many positive things that I can learn from the post-disaster response."


By La Monica Everett-Haynes and Robert G. Varady, University Relations - Communications and the Udall Center for Studies in Public Policy | June 2, 2015


Bhuwan Thapa

UA School of Geography and Development (link sends e-mail)


Published Date: 

06/09/2015 - 12:57pm