An assessment of place vulnerability to natural hazard in south-western Lesotho (Quthing and Mohale's Hoek districts)

Type Thesis or Dissertation - Doctor of Philosophy
Title An assessment of place vulnerability to natural hazard in south-western Lesotho (Quthing and Mohale's Hoek districts)
Publication (Day/Month/Year) 2015
Due to its geographical location, poor economic situation and geological features that are characterised by mostly mountainous terrain, Lesotho is vulnerable to hazardous events associated with climate, such as drought, floods, heavy snow, and severe frost. This research explores factors underlying spatial vulnerability of places to natural hazards in south-western Lesotho. Prior vulnerability assessments in Lesotho have investigated vulnerability in terms of identifying populations that are most food insecure and vulnerable to hunger. By broadening the scope of vulnerability to include biophysical and socioeconomic characteristics, the study emphasises the concept of place vulnerability as a foundation for understanding Lesotho’s vulnerability to natural hazards. Spatial orientation of vulnerability within a geographical area provides an easy way for planners and decision makers to identify areas that may require additional resources in order to prepare for disasters. To date, no quantitatively based vulnerability assessment has been undertaken in Lesotho, so this study is one of the first to assess place vulnerability to natural hazards in Lesotho using GIS and it emphasise the role of geography of a place.
Using two districts in Lesotho as the study region, the study examines which district and community council has the greater level of vulnerability to natural hazards, and why. Place vulnerability is thus investigated through examining vulnerability distribution and by identifying the underlying causes of vulnerability in the study area. The study used a modification of the ‘Hazards of Place Model’ of vulnerability to assess place vulnerability to natural hazards. Using this model, a combination of social and physical variables was examined to assess place vulnerability. Social vulnerability was developed from indicators of demographic, social and economic variables of households and communities. In contrast, physical vulnerability was developed from the history of natural hazard, biophysical and environmental characteristics. The study results reveal that communities are affected differently through a range of natural hazards, based on their past experiences with natural hazard events and social and physical characteristics. Generally, physical vulnerability is high in the lowlands and river valleys, but lower in the high mountains. Social vulnerability varies across the study area, yet without a strong spatial pattern. Aside from heightened levels of place vulnerability in the lowlands and along the river valleys, mapping vulnerability values reveals the influence that social and physical vulnerability has on the overall place vulnerability. For this research, place vulnerability is mostly physically constructed, through the influence of the biophysical characteristics of a place, particularly topography and relief.

Related studies