HI-AWARE Supports Six PhD Students to Conduct Research on Climate Resilience and Adaptation
25 Nov 2015

One of the key objectives of HI-AWARE is to strengthen interdisciplinary expertise in climate change adaptation and resilience research in the mountains, hills, and plains of the Hindu Kush Himalayan (HKH) region. To build this expertise for conducting high quality research on adaptation issues and communicating and using research results strategically, HI-AWARE is providing full PhD scholarships to six PhD candidates from the region, of which half are women, among other things. After a rigorous selection procedure, we are now proud to announce that the following PhD candidates have been selected and have started their research:

  • Bhuwan Thapa of Nepal; University of Arizona and ICIMOD
  • Divya Sharma and Sudeshna Maya Sen, both of India; TERI University and TERI
  • Qurat Ul Ain Ahmad of Pakistan; Free University Amsterdam and Alterra
  • Hassnain Shah of Pakistan; Wageningen University and Alterra; and
  • Sumit Vij, of India; Wageningen University and Alterra.

Each one of them will to conduct his or her PhD research as part of the HI-AWARE team in one of the HI-AWARE Study Basins – Indus, Upper Ganga, Gandaki or Teesta –  and will be assigned one HI-AWARE supervisor in addition to their university supervisors.

The six candidates are profiled below.

Bhuwan Thapa, PhD Candidate, School of Geography and Development, University of Arizona, Tucson, USA

Mr Thapa is a recipient of a PhD research grant from ICIMOD’s Himalayan Adaptation, Water and Resilience (HI-AWARE) Research on Glacier and Snowpack Dependent River Basins for Improving Livelihoods programme. He is a PhD in Geography candidate at the School of Geography and Development, University of Arizona. His research focuses on the resilience of irrigated agriculture to changing climate in the Gandaki River Basin. Prior to joining the graduate programme, he was a water resources management consultant for two years, working on Bagmati River Basin planning and management programmes for Japan Water Agency and Danish Hydraulic Institute.      Previously, he has worked for national and international institutions like the World Wildlife Fund (Nepal), WaterAid (Nepal), the Center for Clean Air Policy (USA) and A4 Scientific (USA), on areas of water and sanitation, decentralised wastewater systems, instrumental pollutant analysis, climate change and modeling, community forestry, and environmental impact assessment. He holds a Masters inPublic Policy from the University of Maryland, College Park, and a Bachelors in Environmental Science from McNeese State University, Louisiana, and St Xavier’s College, Kathmandu.

Mr Thapa’s research focuses on studying the resilience of irrigated agriculture to changing climate in the Gandaki River Basin. He is exploring how Farmer-Managed Irrigation Systems (FMIS), which are autonomous and indigenous institutions of irrigated water management in Nepal, and the local farmers in the region, are responding to multiple and often inter-related climatic and socio-economic changes in agricultural water management. The study will evaluate the biophysical and social vulnerabilities affecting the farmers and assess their responses and adaptation interventions to address these vulnerabilities. He will evaluate the effectiveness of these interventions against multiple objectives like their ability to strengthen system resilience, address livelihood and environmental securities, and achieve gender equity. Since there are differentiated climatic impacts and adaptation responses across the elevations, field sites will be located in the high mountains, mid-hills and lowlands of Nepal.

His study has adopted a couple of unique approaches. First, it is a basin-level study that focuses on dynamic interactions and differentiated responses between highland and lowland regions of the basin. Second, the study applies an integrated approach to studying adaptation. It focuses not only on climatic drivers but also on socio-economic drivers like out-migration of able working men, feminisation of water management and land degradation. Third, the study field tests many important adaptation concepts like ecological and social thresholds, institutional adaptive capacity, and turning and tipping points. These empirical evidences will expand the knowledge base of climate adaptation literature and provide useful information to adaptation practitioners and policymakers.

This study is highly relevant to the HI-AWARE initiative because the research explores the resilience of agricultural water management to climatic changes. The study will be conducted in Nepal’s Gandaki Basin, which is one of the four study basins of the HI-AWARE initiative. Importantly, the study aims to help achieve some of the HI-AWARE goal and objectives, particularly in generating robust evidence on social and biophysical vulnerabilities and adaptation practices and approaches, and strengthening the interdisciplinary expertise of students.

Bhuwan can be reached at: bthapa@email.arizona.edu

Divya Sharma, PhD Candidate, Department of Natural Resources, TERI University, New Delhi, India

Ms Divya Sharma is a recipient of a PhD research grant from the Himalayan Adaptation, Water and Resilience (HI-AWARE) Research on Glacier and Snowpack Dependent River Basins for Improving Livelihoods programme. She is a PhD candidate in the Department of Natural Resources, TERI University, New Delhi. Her research focuses on the interactions of biophysical and socioeconomic drivers that lead to vulnerability to climate change in the Upper Ganga Basin. Prior to joining the HI-AWARE PhD programme, she was a graduate exchange student at German-Indian Sustainability and Climate Change Dialogue, Environmental Policy Research Centre (FFU) at Freie Universität Berlin, where she studied the subsidy frameworks of the solar power sector in Germany and how these subsides steered the evolution of markets and institutions. As a research intern at TERI-SRC, Bangalore, she developed an Agricultural Resilience Index with a systems perspective. Before joining TERI University as a masters student in Climate science and Policy, Divya used to work as an engineering analyst at Infosys Technologies Ltd. She has also worked for Airbus at Filton, United Kingdom, and has over six years of industrial experience in stress analysis and Computer Aided Designing in the domain of aerospace and consumer appliances. She holds a Bachelors in Mechanical Engineering and is a mother to a preschooler.

Ms Sharma’s research will explore the dynamic and differentiated climate change vulnerabilities of Upper Ganga Basin communities. Her research will focus on investigating interlinks among biophysical and socio-economic drivers of such vulnerabilities. The study will try to unpack the governance and institutional mesh to understand social networks and decision-making processes. The understanding of these networks and processes will facilitate adaptation interventions to target the wellbeing of the mountain community in terms of sustainable livelihoods, gender equity and resilience.

The study is highly relevant as it focuses on the Upper Ganga Basin, which is one of the study sites in the HI-AWARE initiative. Moreover, the study intends to explore the vulnerability drivers to climate change and will help in meeting the goals and objectives of HI-AWARE’s research components.

Divya can be reached at: divya.sharma2@students.teriuniversity.ac.in

Sudeshna Maya Sen, PhD Candidate, Department of Natural Resources, TERI University, New Delhi, India

 Sudeshna Maya Sen is a PhD student at the Department of Natural  Resources, TERI University, New Delhi. Her broader areas of interests are  climate change vulnerability and adaptation assessment, traditional  knowledge systems and climate and environment induced migration.  During her Masters in Climate Science and Policy (2011-2013) from TERI  University, Sudeshna worked with TERI-IHC for her summer internship.  She worked on assessing the vulnerability of coastal tourism destinations  in West Bengal to climate change. From January 2013 to May 2013, she  worked with the Institute of Rural Management Anand (IRMA) to study  adaptation strategies and practices undertaken across five rural Indian  states in the current climate scenario. Sudeshna has also worked for a  year with the Climate Change Department under the State Government of  Gujarat, India. She was responsible for handling climate change policy  changes for the state and also worked on Gujarat’s State Action Plan on  Climate Change (SAPCC). She holds a Bachelors in Biological Sciences and is an avid traveller and a voracious reader.

Sudeshna’s research will focus on HI-AWARE’s Research Component 3, which involves assessments of climate change adaptation practices. She will be working on the Upper Ganga and Teesta basins. The broad objectives of her PhD research is to identify and list adaptation options in identified study sites in Sikkim and Uttarakhand and to study their characteristics. The study will also evaluate the success of adaptation options based on a set of criteria and seek to understand the determinants that explain variations in their outcomes and to identify the major bridges and barriers of adaption responses.

Sudeshna can be reached at: sudeshnamayasen@gmail.com

Qurat Ul Ain Ahmad, PhD Student in Water Resources, Free University Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Ms Qurat is a PhD candidate for ‘Water Resources in the Himalaya Mountains and Floodplains: Quantification of Critical Moments and Adaptation Turning Points’ programme under the IDRC and DFID funded HI-AWARE project aimed at exploring the future directions for Adaptation Research in the Glacierised/Snowpack river Basins of Himalayas for Improving Livelihoods. She is enrolled at the Earth and Life Sciences Department of VU University, Amsterdam, and will conduct research at the Climate Change and Adaptive Land and Water Management Research Centre, Alterra, WUR, the Netherlands, under the supervision of Dr Eddy Moors and Ms Hester Biemans. Before joining the HI-AWARE consortium, Ms Qurat was associated with the Water Resources and Glaciology Division of Global Change Impact Studies Centre (GCISC), Climate Change Division, Government of Pakistan, from 2008. When working at GCISC, she was involved in studying the impacts of climate change on Pakistan’s fresh water resources in order to develop adequate adaptation measures to manage water resources efficiently. She has a Masters in Applied Physics (2008) from the University of Engineering and Technology (UET) Lahore, Pakistan.

During the course of her PhD, Ms Qurat will focus on developing a better understanding of stresses on future water availability (spatially and temporally) and their consequences on crop production under uncertain climate change conditions and increased population. The study also aims to envisage the impacts of climate extremes (heat waves, wet/dry conditions etc) on crop yields and quality. Research efforts will be made to ascertain potential adaptation strategies for implementation at the basin scale for coping more efficiently with exacerbated water demand and supply situation; she will also study the complex mountain and associated floodplain systems of the Indus, Ganga and Brahmaputra, which will be targeted for quantitative analysis. For this study, a basin scale Hydrology – Agriculture model will be developed under the framework of the Dynamical Global Vegetation Model (DGVM) considering the share of water from all possible sources (e.g. shallow groundwater, deep groundwater, water from reservoirs, snow/glacier melt etc.) with improved irrigation efficiencies to produce sufficient crop yield to feed an increasing population demand under unavoidable climatic and other non-climatic circumstances.

Her project construction and study objectives are in line with the scope of HI-AWARE’s project. The outcomes from this project will contribute to improving already existing adaptation strategies to further establish policies for practices. Therefore, her PhD research findings will provide positive feedback to HI-AWARE’s goals to enhance the adaptive capacities and climate resilience in the mountains and floodplains of the glacierised/snowpack dependent river basins of South Asia.

Qurat can be reached at: quratuetian29@gmail.com

Hassnain Shah, PhD Candidate, Water Resource Management Group, Wageningen Institute for Environment and Climate Research (WIMEK), Wageningen University (WU), Netherlands

Mr Shah is one of the three candidates registered as a (“Sandwich”) PhD student. This PhD fellowship is awarded as part of the Himalayan Adaptation, Water and Resilience (HI-AWARE) Research on Glacier and Snowpack Dependent River Basins for Improving Livelihoods programme. After completing his MSc (Hons) in Agricultural Economics from the University of Agriculture, Faisalabad, he started his research career in 1999 as a Research Associate at the same university, followed by a short assignment at International Water Management Institute, Lahore, as a Research Assistant in a project on conjunctive water management. Since 2001, he has been working as part of the social sciences research team of the Pakistan Agricultural Research Council. In the 16 years he has been a researcher, he has gained vast experience in designing and implementing socioeconomic component activities as part of multidisciplinary teams within regional- and national- level R&D projects, for which he has conducted socio-economic studies of diverse kinds such as baseline, diagnostics and cost-effectiveness studies of different water-saving measures. He has also conducted technology assessments and studied their adoption rate and value chains.

In HI-AWARE Mr Shah will focus on the ‘Economics of Critical Moments – Adaptations in Agriculture in the Himalaya Mountains and Floodplains”. The study intends to analyse crop-specific critical moments (CM), time-specific climate hazards that pose vulnerability at different stages of crop cycle and affect farmers’ livelihood. Developing evidence of CM from literature and field studies from three agro-ecologies across the Indus Basin in Pakistan through estimation of their impacts on livelihoods, assessment of farmers’ adaptation choices within the context of their adaptive capacity, and measuring their impacts under different climate scenarios is expected to support efforts in climate-resilient farming. The research on CMs will be the entry point for the appraisal and classification of adaptation options and for the pathways and the inclusion of stakeholders’ adaptive capacities. The estimates of losses due to CMs and their thresholds will be further explored through crop-simulation modelling to predict potential vulnerabilities under different scenarios for the prioritisation of adaptation measures. The study is targeted to fill the research gaps identified under the HI-AWARE proposal. Proposed activities of the studies are designed to integrate bottom-up and top-down climate research by incorporating information on field-level vulnerabilities in scenario simulations and is targeted to improving resilience at production level. The planned research will be conducted through his work as part of the HI-AWARE teams at Alterra and PARC.

Hassnain can be reached at: hassnain.shah@wur.nl

Sumit Vij, PhD Researcher, Public Administration and Policy Group & Alterra, Wageningen University and Research Center, The Netherlands

Sumit Vij holds a Masters in Sustainable Development Practices from TERI University, India, and he completed his Bachelors in Chemistry from the University of Delhi. He also holds a master’s degree in Development Management from Tata-Dhan Academy, a collaborative effort of Sir Ratan Tata Trust (SRTT) and DHAN Foundation. Before starting his PhD, he worked with SaciWATERs, on the projects focused on peri-urban water governance and climate change in south Asia. He has also worked as a consultant on the Living with Climate Change project (SSHRC) with partners in India, Nepal, Pakistan and Canada. He was responsible for designing, planning, and implementing the project in semi-arid sites in India. He also has gained experience in project designing and coordination while working on the ‘National Dairy Plan’ at the National Dairy Development Board, Ministry of Agriculture, India.

Sumit Vij’s research will focus on the governance of adaptation. The specific focus is to understand how adaptation is conceptualised as a political process. It will focus on understanding the influence of power on approaches of policymaking for adaptation in south Asian countries (India, Nepal, and Bangladesh). Further, it will identify the different approaches and the underlying administrative traditions that have shaped the governance of adaptation in the region or country. Then the research will identify positive (productive force) and negative application of power, such as ‘power in action’. The research will focus on policymaking at the national and district level of the countries studied.

The focus of HI-AWARE is to bridge the gap between the research and policymaking processes. An understanding of the adaptation governance at the national and district level should help in expressing research outputs appropriately. Moreover, the study is conducted in the HI-AWARE countries, which could help in understanding the political processes of framing adaptation policies and strategies, thus directly contributing to the project. It will also generate knowledge on how the actor/agency/structure uses ‘power over’ to overpower decisions and how actor/agency/structure uses ‘power to’ to limit the boundaries of a decision.

Sumit can be reached at sumit.vij@wur.nl.