Build disaster resilience through communal synergies

Photo credit: Luis Alfonso Monje.

Strategy & Futures Thinking
Ethnographic research, facilitation, data analysis, concept development and graphics
4 months
Aalto Global Impact/Aalto University
Anumaria Salminen, Carles Martínez, Kristiina Kolu, Luis Alfonso Monje, Lassi Tähtinen, Roosa Verkasalo
The Nepali project was focused around the theme of sustainable reconstruction of communities after disasters.
The Nepali project 2019 is focused around the theme of reconstructing communities after disasters, due to the 2015 Nepal earthquake. Nepali project 2018 was a pilot case focusing on communication means and knowledge adoption. The previous team’s target village was Dhungentar, which is a small rural settlement with 500 inhabitants and 96 households, located 68 km northwest of Kathmandu.  ​​​​​​​​​

The target area of the 2019 project was expanded to cover Dhungentar settlement and also its surrounding areas. The reason for expanding the project area was that Dhungentar settlement had been established by the International Center for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) only recently to define the borders for their disaster relief project, leaving those outside the area without ICIMOD’s aid and possibly causing segregation and resentment between the neighbourhoods. 

Dhungentar settlement. Photo credit: Carles Martinez.

The project included a collaboration with the students from the Asian Institute of Technology and Management (AITM). The Aalto and AITM student teams were working together during the field trip with the objective of studying social cohesion and entrepreneurship opportunities amongst the community, respectively.

Scale model of Dhungentar settlement and surrounding villages. Photo credit: Carles Martinez.

The interdisciplinary Aalto team aimed to study the resilience amongst a rural community in Nepal, and what to extract from the angle of social cohesion.
Aalto team’s objective was to contribute to building disaster resilience through synergies in rural communities influenced by social stratification (i.e. caste system). The main research questions were: what kind of social cohesion exists in Dhungentar; how inclusion, collaboration and synergies are achieved; and how could these be attained even better taking into account the natural interactions in the community. The objective of the AITM team was to research entrepreneurship opportunities in the village.

Upon arrival in Dhungentar, the research was executed in the form of semi-structured interviews, observation and photography.

Focus group with local youth. Photo credit: Carles Martinez.

Using photography as a non-scientific method of research, understanding and exploring both the built and the human environment became crucial for the whole project.
When it comes to a complex project with a complex context, different methods of approaching become highly useful for providing perspective. For this reason, photography appeared as a unique angle to take, complimenting the more narrow perspective that using only interviews would have given to the project.

Upon arrival in Dhungentar, the photographers covered all the central areas of Dhungentar settlement and aimed to cover most out of the surroundings. After careful selection 22 printed photos were set up in the multipurpose community centre with the purpose of piloting an event concentrating on the unity of the community, bringing the villagers together in a safe and neutral environment. 

Poster for photo exhibition. Photo credit: Carles Martinez.

The photography exhibition was open to everyone in the community for one day, meaning to be a place of reunion. Over 100 villagers were officially registered as visitors, where some were given guided tours around the exhibition, and others found themselves discovering the multipurpose community centre for the first time. Some photographies remain in the community centre and others in Nepal and Finland.

Locals visiting photo exhibition. Photo credit: Luis Alfonso Monje.

The analysis of the data was based on the UCRA framework, the Urban Community Resilience Assessment, which is a resilience planning process meant for linking local knowledge with top-down planning priorities. It is primarily meant for guiding the design of policies and projects for building resilience and to address the needs of vulnerable people. It allows the identification of causal relationships across different categories and indicators, and helps planning resilience actions that address multiple issues.

The UCRA framework was used as a basis for analysing the research data, and to help identifying the different aspects of social cohesion and their relation to community disaster resilience.

Team discussions. Photo credit: Carles Martinez

Mapping the data from the interviews using affinity diagram. Photo credit: Carles Martinez. 

Based on the insights, two different scenarios were developed to evaluate possible futures.
Connected to the insights, two main scenarios, and possible futures for Dhungentar settlement concerning the different dimensions of social cohesion, were identified and described. These scenarios are based on the literature research and the analysis of the data collected during the field trip.
Scenario 1 - The Network
The network scenario is developed around four well-acknowledged actors in Dhungentar settlement: the schools, multipurpose community center, social mobilizers, and the model house. The scenario mainly focuses on enhancing collaboration and knowledge-sharing activities, and through those aims to affect the different aspect of social cohesion; strength and size of social networks, neighborhood socializing, sense of community identity, and community-based livelihood.

In the current state, a clear network between the aforementioned actors does not exist. If continued as such, the lack of coordination potentially hinders development of the community, which impacts also the community’s cohesion. Lacking collaboration between actors could prevent, not only capacity building, but also more inclusive practices and strengthening of the community identity.
Scenario 2 - The Committees
This scenario focuses on addressing social cohesion of Dhungentar settlement through improving coordination and collaboration between the independent committees in the village. The aim is to support inclusiveness of the committees and help them work more efficiently for the community’s development.

If continuing as currently, the future of the committees in Dhungentar seems uncertain. If they continue to work isolated of each other, they will be lacking additional synergies and efficiency. Possibly more committees are created with overlapping agendas and a lack of overall coordination. Provided that the discussions are not openly shared, the gap between villagers in Dhungentar settlement and in the surrounding areas could continue to grow.
The scenarios presented have not been developed to address in particular which steps would be needed to take for reaching the scenario in question. To more carefully assess the feasibility and implications of the scenarios, the scenarios should be analysed further and in more detail. The main purpose of these scenarios is to provide ideas and perspective on how the future could look like in case changes in the current state occur.

To support the self-sufficiency of the Dhungentar settlement, the initiative for changing the current state would need to come from the villagers themselves. Villagers should be encouraged to use the capacity from within the village for taking actions for developing their community.
Some people say that one can’t really manage time, that whether one wants it to or not, it passes all too quickly. There are times when there never really seem to be enough hours in the day to do everything that one needs to do and that is why time management is so important – it’s important to make the most of the available time that one has and organise the workload accordingly. A detailed schedule of our project would have helped us to really keep on top of any time management issues.

Regarding the scenarios, they are not a specific forecast of the future, but a plausible description of what might happen. Our future scenarios are aimed to assist in the identification of possible futures, making people aware of uncertainties and opening up their imagination and initiating learning processes. The scenarios are not the complete answer to the future of Dhungentar settlement, but rather a tool for allowing the community and the organisations to create their own future.

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