Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


Geography & Environmental Studies


Faculty of Arts

First Advisor

Kenneth Hewitt

Advisor Role

Thesis Supervisor


Conventional approaches to studying environmental risks and hazards have focused on the physical parameters of geomorphic, hydrologic and climatic events—magnitude, duration and frequency—without adequately accounting for the role of human agency in averting disaster and distributing loss. Secondly, where human intervention was recognized it was often in an incriminating way, particularly in work dealing with the developing world or peripheral regions such as mountain areas. Here, humans were portrayed as helpless victims; unable to successfully adapt to their environment or else they were viewed as having played an unwitting role in their own downfall through ‘short-sighted’ agricultural practices such as overgrazing or deforestation. Since the late-1970s there has been an emerging sub-field in hazards research that has sought to place greater emphasis on the social, economic and environmental conditions that create a state of vulnerability, whereby communities, regions, ethnic groups, classes and nations are more likely to be exposed to hazardous processes and less able to recover from them. This research, based on fieldwork conducted in the village of Darkot in the Darakoram Mountains, Northern Pakistan, seeks to utilise this ‘vulnerability’ perspective to study risk and responses to risk by members of the community. In it I argue that losses from environmental hazards—while closely related to the magnitude of the event itself—must also be interpreted with regard to changes in environmental conditions unrelated to hazard events, socio-economic constraints that constrain household responses to risk and slow recovery and the constraints on settlement within and around the community, such that people have little choice but to settle in unsafe locations. This first section of this work deals with the various theoretical approaches to the study of risks and hazards, with particular references to the work of Hewitt (1983, 1997) and Blaikie et al. (1994, 2001) on the social construction of vulnerability. Physical conditions in the Karakoram and the Yasin Valley are discussed and the various ways in which human activity has modified the landscape. I argue that these mountain communities have developed a variety of ‘techniques’ that have—for the most part—been successful in managing the risks and hazards associated with such a dynamic environment. Traditional responses to risk, indeed the traditional economy, is being altered however with recent intervention by local and national government, in particular through the work of the AKRSP. To account for the totality of risk in the community, I have sought to address a number of interrelated elements including the hazards to which households in the community are exposed to, the intervening conditions that exacerbate or avert losses, the methods with which households adapt and cope with danger and loss and the extent to which various households in the community are more vulnerable than others to damaging events. To account for the formation of vulnerability at the community and household level, I have employed a version of Blaikie et al.’s (1994, 2001) ‘disaster and release model’ in which vulnerability is shown to be influenced by events and conditions far removed from what is considered a peripheral mountain valley. The research was carried out over a period of two months, during which time a number of interviews were carried out within the village, hazard sites and settlement patterns were identified and mapped, and data collected on land-use, population, cropping patterns and agricultural practices within the community.

Convocation Year


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