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Climate Risk Assessment: A Pilot study in Kullu, Himachal Pradesh

Submitted by Somya Bhatt 5th January 2022 11:03
An image of a diagram explaining the Climate Risk Management process from GIZ


Climate change has been recognised as a key challenge to the economy and sustainable development worldwide and especially across the South Asian subcontinent. Various global studies have particularly identified India as one of the most climatethreatened countries in the world. The livelihoods of a large section of the population in rural India, which is the backbone of the Indian economy, are still dependent on climate-sensitive sectors like agriculture, forest produce, animal husbandry, fisheries, etc., and hence, are highly vulnerable to changes in weather patterns. Severe rainfall and floods, cloudbursts, frequent droughts and heatwaves, forest degradation and salinisation of groundwater are some of the current impacts of climate change that is already being felt across different terrains of the country – from the Himalayas to the coastal belts. These impacts are likely to intensify in the next decade, and even if global greenhouse emissions drastically reduce, it will greatly affect food production, water resources, biodiversity, and health systems. 

This publication describes, in detail, the application of the Climate Risk Management Framework for India to the Kullu region in Himachal Padesh. For each village in Kullu the full text presents detailed descriptions of current and projected climate change risks, and provides a comprehensive insight into loss and damage arising from climate change in Kullu. This publication also demonstrates and shares lessons learned on how this Climate Risk Management Framework might be applied in other locations, and shares detailed insights on the contexts of the villages and the risks they face.

*This weADAPT article/case study is an abridged version of the original text, which can be downloaded from the right-hand column. Please access the original text for research purposes, full references, and to quote text.


There are six steps in the Climate Risk Management Framework for India (Figure 1). More on the framework can be found in this article.

  1. Define the status quo. The key considerations are to develop a climate vulnerability and risk profile, map existing knowledge and data availability as well as institutional context, and identify stakeholders and their information needs. 
  2. Identify the system of interest. This involves identifying relevant regional or sectoral spaces for risk assessment and setting the objectives of risk assessment. This also involves mapping needs and expectations of local stakeholders and defining the project timeframe and associated limitations. 
  3. Develop context-specific methodology. This is based on information and data collected in steps 1 and 2. This data is used to finalise a methodology that provides climate risk assessment and participatory field surveys. 
  4. Identify climate change risks. This involves a structured application of methodology integrating vulnerability and climate risks that include: hazard (due to slow and rapid onset events), vulnerability (at the block- and village-level), and exposure (to livelihoods and infrastructure).
  5. Evaluate risk tolerance and limits to adaptation. This means identifying the capacities of affected systems to reduce and adapt to risks and categorising risks as acceptable, tolerable, and intolerable. 
  6. Identify feasible options to address potential loss and damage. This includes evaluating a range of adaptation and CRM options, in line with stakeholder needs and recommending incremental, fundamental, and transformative actions. 

The approach used in the study was to suggest a broad range of potential adaptive options as it allows for all risk components to be addressed and encompasses incremental, fundamental, and transformative response actions. Typically a wide-ranging basket of adaptation options is favoured, because it allows for all risk components to be addressed (e.g. reducing vulnerability and/or exposure, and mitigating the hazard potential), and encompasses incremental, fundamental, and transformative response actions. 

For Step 4, a Livelihood Risk Index (LRI) and Infrastructure Risk Index (INRI) have been assessed at the block/village level using a composite risk approach in which the blocks are ranked based on the calculated index values. A higher index value represents high risk while lower index value represents low risk for the blocks. Kullu block level Risk Index (RI) for Livelihood and Infrastructure has been developed using weighted average of individual components of risk, namely Hazard Index, Exposure Index and Vulnerability Index. The risk analysis has been done for current and projected climate (under RCP4.5 and RCP8.5 climate scenario towards mid-century). A set of 43 indicators for blocks of Kullu have been identified while 50 indicators for villages of Anni and Banjar blocks have been identified for the risk assessment. The indices facilitate the identification of blocks/villages which have high risk and where adaptation is needed to reduce vulnerability. 

Kullu, Himachal Pradesh

Short summary of findings

Impact risk chain: To synthesize the factors that influence risk in Kullu district, and thereby provide a context for the development of the indicator-based risk assessment and direction for the design of adaptation options, an impact-risk chain was developed based on the information collected during the field survey, combined with the expert judgement of the project team. The impact-risk chain presented in Figure 11, focusses on the climatic hazards for which observations, climate models, and community perceptions all provide robust evidence of an increasing trend. In addition, crucial institutional and regulatory factors that influence the exposure and vulnerabilities of the community to these impacts have been identified. These are discussed further in the section on Step 6 in the full text.

From page 36 of the full text: Impact chain for communities in Kullu district, considering both rapid onset and slow onset

Risk assessment: The risk assessment has shown that heavy rainfall, related flood discharge, and landslides are all projected to increase across the district by mid-century (under RCP 4.5 and 8.5), increasing the threat to livelihoods and infrastructure, and compounding the effects of water scarcity, heat stress, and drought. These findings are in line with community perceptions that have highlighted significant and increasing impacts relating to flooding, cloudbursts, and plant diseases (as linked to rising temperature and water stress). Considering risks to livelihoods, highest risk levels under both current and future conditions are seen in the blocks of Kullu and Nirmand, while risk to infrastructure is highest in the block of Anni and Nirmand. See the full text for highly detailed risk profiles and risk maps of the blocks in Kullu.

Loss and damage: While representing an idealised approach, the analyses could demonstrate that in the absence of suitable adaptation measures, house reparation costs and/or loss of income due to crop damages can be expected to increase in the order of 20 – 30% across the different blocks under RCP 8.5 by mid 21st century, causing a shift from tolerable to intolerable risk levels for many households. Considering damages to infrastructure, tolerance levels for communities will be seasonably variable, as for example damage to critical transportation corridors are more critical during the harvesting season, preventing crops from reaching economic markets.

livelihoods risk map
Example of a risk map from page 31 of the full text - Figure 21: Current and Projected Livelihood Risk Map for Anni villages, under RCP scenarios 4.5 and 8.5.

Adaptation Options

These options are based on project team’s experiences in the study region, and draw on well-established strategies undertaken to address climate-related challenges in the Himalayas and elsewhere. The next step was to focus in detail on options identified by the community themselves. These options are summarised and separated into incremental, fundamental and transformative actions in Figure 42, below.

Disaster Risk Reduction Strategies

Flood and landslides are two of the greatest threats facing Kullu district, with associated risks (and L&D) expected to increase with future warming and increased heavy rainfall in particular. Adaptation options to address L&D associated with flood and landslide fall primarily within the category of DRR strategies and include:

  • Early warning systems: Using the latest scientific understanding, monitoring technology, and local knowledge to forecast and warn of imminent threats to lives and infrastructure. 
  • Land use planning/zoning: Integrating science-based hazard and risk mapping into urban planning to reduce the exposure and vulnerability of people and critical infrastructure. This requires clarification of the local legal context and regulations, and understanding of community perceptions which influence land use practices.
  • Sustainable ecosystem and land management: These include (a) sustainable agroforestry practices, river management, and agricultural practices can reduce land degradation and erosion, reducing the impacts associated with flooding and landslides; (b) careful planning and construction of roads can reduce adverse effects on slope stability; and (c) as a low-regret adaptation measure, it is expected that sustainable ecosystems and land management have multiple benefits for a community beyond DRR, relating to recreation and tourism.
  • Building secure and reliable infrastructure: Establishing building standards and maintenance programmes that mean exposed infrastructure is built to withstand potential climate-related threats. Regulations and building requirements are commonly linked to hazard zoning.
  • Community awareness and preparedness: Local education and training to ensure that the communities and key organizations are aware of the threats, and to ensure strengthened coping capacities so that locals know what to do and how to respond during an event.
  • Emergency response strategies: To ensure that local authorities and key organizations have well-developed response strategies to safeguard medical aid, key services and lifelines during the emergency phase.
  • Structural engineering defences: Defence structures and engineering solutions that reduce or prevent hazards from occurring in the first place. For example, deflection dams to alleviate flood damage or reinforcement of unstable slopes.

Adaptation to Slow Onset Events

In terms of slow onset events (e.g., issues of water scarcity, changing seasonality) a number of options are available to minimise losses in the agricultural and horticultural sectors.

  • Meteorological based measures: (a) agro meteorological advisories for coping with adverse weather conditions in agronomy; and (b) climate-smart insurance, as a special type of weather-parameter-based insurance instruments which reduce financial losses due to extreme weather (see also insurances below).
  • Improved hydrological management: (a) rain water harvesting through micro-reservoirs to save water to improve water security; (b) water budgeting and efficient irrigation methods, allowing agriculture during drought conditions; (c) artificial spring recharge through permeable ponds to allow recharge of local groundwater reserves; (d) traditional irrigation strategies based on local traditional knowledge to ensure fair water allocation; and (e) mulching which reduces evaporation losses and pests and diseases.
  • Food security: (a) agri-aquaculture, combining small holder agronomy with fish farming and rainwater harvesting to improve food security; and (b) family gardens that include diverse crops and small animal husbandry to improve food security.
  • Resilient farming and land use practices: (a) minimum ploughing strategies to reduce the negative side effects of intensive soil cultivation on land erosion; (b) organic and biodiverse agriculture, that is typically more resilient to extreme weather and climate than traditional monocultures; (c) mixed cropping and crop rotation to ensure soil fertility without necessity of a fallow phase (erosion); and (d) Selection of climate change-resilient varieties, species and genotype to improve resilience against humidity, drought, pests and diseases. 

Summary of adaptation actions, from page 58 of the full text.

Priority areas for adaptation identified at the community level

Based on the insights gained through the field survey, rural communities in Kullu district have identified four core areas for government support:

  • Enhancing agricultural efficiency: Increasing access to cheap seeds for diversifying crops and recovering from disasters and strengthening diversity of genes, species and ecosystems is crucial to increase resilience to changing environmental conditions and stresses. Access to seeds needs to be improved through informal seed networks, seed-system recovery, supporting gene banks, use of indigenous and locally-adapted plants, creation of farmers’ seed enterprises, participatory plant breeding and variety selection, etc.
  • Enhancing Water Security: Climate-proofing of water infrastructure and water conserving technologies such as drip irrigation, water management practices, improving reliability of water supply, etc. are effective ways to maintain cropping intensity, provide opportunities to diversify into high-value market crops, and reduce reliance on rain-fed field crops.
  • Climate Resilient Infrastructure: Improving the quality of transport infrastructure and basic community infrastructure. This can be done by introducing and enforcing appropriate land-use planning regulations that curtail reconstruction in high-risk areas, reconstructing improved hazard-control infrastructure, such as flood embankments and slope stabilisation methods, and replacing damaged assets with context-sensitive, technologically updated alternatives.
  • Financial services: Provision of subsidies to increase farm profitability by providing financial support mechanisms that enable farmers to enhance their productivity levels. This also helps reduce personal expenses such as targeted subsidies to improve diversification of crops, assist in switching from crops to livestock, and/or assist efforts toward efficient water management.

Risk Transfer and Insurance

Various insurance mechanisms are highlighted under the Disaster Management Plan for Kullu district. However, uptake of these schemes is very low and communities don’t expect any government support in this regard. A low uptake of insurance mechanisms mean that the government has to bear a huge cost for compensation and rehabilitation work in post-disaster situations. New financial tools such as catastrophe risk financing, risk insurance, catastrophe bonds, micro-finance, contingent credit facilities and reserve funds, insurance, etc. are available to cover the individual, community, corporate sectors, as well as livestock losses. A strong awareness program is required to extensively create linkages with government insurance schemes like Rashtriya Swasthya Bima Yojana, Aam Admi Bima Yojana for risk transfer. 

Lessons learnt on the application of the CRM framework

In climate vulnerability assessments that form the basis for most state action plans, it is difficult to separate the influence of climate on physical events from the underlying social, cultural, economic, and institutional factors that determine a community’s ability to prepare, respond, and recover from any disaster. This leads to broader identification of districts as ‘highly vulnerable’ as there is a lack of specific factors that can determine vulnerability, and as a consequence, lack of allocation of resources to address the situation effectively.

In the risk assessment approach used here, separate hazard, exposure, and vulnerability indices provide the complete spectrum of information required for better decision-making, especially relating to both slow onset and rapid onset events. For example, in the ‘highly vulnerable’ Banjar block, programs can focus on building local capacities, awareness, and enhancing resilience, while in the Nirmand block with high exposure and hazard indices, efforts can be focussed on land zoning and early warning systems.

Remaining challenges

Some key challenges of this risk-based approach remain:

  • Future changes in vulnerability and exposure are characterised by high levels of uncertainty. While general trends in population and economic growth can provide some insights, projecting future economic development at the block- or villagelevel, and what this means for levels of exposure and vulnerability in India, becomes challenging. For example, one significant natural disaster could have major repercussions on future development trajectories. Likewise unexpected changes in political, institutional or economic contexts could have large implications for vulnerability and exposure.
  • Another major challenge in the overall assessment framework, for which illustrative examples are largely lacking, is in the way risk levels are quantified (e.g., very low to very high) and translated into domains of risk tolerance (acceptable, tolerable, intolerable). In Kullu, a first attempt has been made in which potential losses were scaled-up according to established risk levels. This was done under the assumption that losses will be greater in high-risk zones, and combined with qualitative information from the community survey to establish domains at which these losses could exceed the coping capacities of farmers.

Considering slow and rapid onset events

One of the novel characteristics of this study has been the consideration of both slow onset and rapid onset events, made possible through the use of a compound hazard index. This recognises that a farming community may face the highest levels of risk when exposed to both prolonged effects of rising temperature causing related crop diseases, and regular catastrophic flooding.

This study reinforces the need to build combined response strategies that cut across boundaries of climate change adaptation and disaster risk management. The strong focus on climate change within the state disaster management plan for Himachal Pradesh is promising. However, decision-making needs to be supported with further ground-level interdisciplinary assessments of wide-ranging climate risks across all districts