Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Environmental Studies (MES)


Geography & Environmental Studies


Faculty of Arts

First Advisor

Kenneth Hewitt

Advisor Role

Thesis Supervisor


This thesis presents the findings of a comparative study of vulnerability, coping and risk-averting strategies and social responses to environmental hazards, particularly debris flow and flooding hazards, in the Northern Areas of Pakistan. Two small village-scale settlements, the prevailing form of community in the region, were selected as case studies and are described in detail. The villages exhibit a comparable subsistence agro-pastoral economy and socio-cultural organization reflecting similarities in environmental opportunities and constraints, historical processes and religious beliefs. However, they differ greatly in their proximity to commercial centres and in the rate at which modernization processes are being introduced and incorporated into the rate at which modernization processes are being introduced and incorporated into the daily lives of villagers. Vulnerable groups are identified through a variety of methods including semi-structured interviews, empirical observations and participatory methods. All of these methods are grounded in the view that vulnerability to environmental hazards is tied to everyday activities and social inequalities in the study communities. At the household scale, socio-economic status is shown to be a contributing factor to differential vulnerability. Household with adequate access to resources and wide social networks generally fare better than those without these same resources and connections. Access to land, livestock and cash savings, coupled with kin and neighbourhood ties within and outside the community, generally ensure that these households are able to withstand losses from a damaging event. The introduction of modernizing influences often benefits those with sufficient resources and social ties, while simultaneously increasing the relative vulnerability of resource-poor households. Women and girls are identified as one of the most vulnerable groups—a condition that results from strong but variable gender divisions of social space, labour and influence within the study communities. This condition is generally heightened and extended by modernization processes that increase their workload and responsibility for the subsistence economy, yet do not increase their quality of life or standard of living. Meanwhile, the relative vulnerability of the Shia community, a community that fared quite well under the more traditional system, is increasing as a direct result of modernization processes that are inconsistent with religious beliefs regarding the strict seclusion of women. While the thesis shows women as a vulnerable group in various settings, it simultaneously emphasizes the differences in their experience within and between households, communities and villages. As a result, it illustrates the variability of vulnerability in a region often treated as a homogenous unit by researchers and ‘development’ practitioners alike.

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Convocation Season