Consequences of Adaptation for Risk : In Nepal and the Maldives

Abstract: Throughout time, communities have adapted to changes in their environment and, in doing so, have addressed risksthat threaten the things they value. The need to adapt is considered more urgent now than ever, notably given thecurrent focus on climate risk. Typically, adaptation is presented as a solution to reduce such risks. This is particularlythe case for Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States, which have been designated asmost vulnerable.Interestingly, although it is acknowledged that such countries are subject to risks related to many developmentalissues that go beyond climate, the focus is firmly on climate concerns. This supports a tendency to conceptualiserisk only in terms of climate, while its causes are argued to be due to biophysical sources, ending in technical andmanagerial adaptation solutions.While climate concerns are clearly valid, climate is rarely the only factor affecting communities. Typically, they areexposed to a complex combination of changes in their environment, and must respond to stresses, hazards, risksand opportunities. Furthermore, human beings are not neutral actors; they have values, goals and aspirations, andposess and exercise power. Therefore, it becomes problematic to assume that adaptation is a neutral, solutionorientedprocess with no consequences.It is against this backdrop that this thesis attempts to understand the consequences of adaptation in relation to risk.It begins by understanding adaptation from the vantage point of society, rather than climate. A case study approachwas adopted. Four villages in Nepal and two islands in the Maldives were selected, and qualitative data collectionand analysis methods were used. The results show that communities have adapted that has helped reduce risks.Thus, adaptation has had consequences for risk. Specifically, although it has reduced everyday risks, at the sametime it has increased their vulnerability to shocks. Furthermore, these consequences were found to be not onlydifferent among communities, but also unequal.The thesis emphasises the need to adopt a critical approach to understanding the consequences of adaptation froma risk perspective. Adaptation must be reframed as a process, rather than a one-time technical solution. Moreimportantly, analyses must pay attention to dimensions such as goals, values, power, and spatial and temporalscales.