Recovery and adaptation after the 2015 Nepal earthquakes: a smallholder household perspective

Journal Paper
Epstein, K., J. DiCarlo, R. Marsh, B. Adhikari, D. Paudel, I. Ray and I. E. Måren
Ecology and Society 23 (1):29
Publication year: 2018


Communities reliant on subsistence and small-scale production are typically more vulnerable than others to disasters such as earthquakes. We study the earthquakes that struck Nepal in the spring of 2015 to investigate their impacts on smallholder communities and the diverse trajectories of recovery at the household and community levels. We focus on the first year following the earthquakes because this is when households were still devastated, yet beginning to recover and adapt. Through survey questionnaires, focus group discussions, open-ended interviews, and observations at public meetings we analyze physical impacts to farming systems and cropping cycles. We investigate respondent reports of loss and recovery through a new social-ecological recovery assessment instrument and find that diversification of livelihoods and access to common resources, alongside robust community institutions, were critical components of coping and recovery. There was widespread damage to subsistence farming infrastructure, which potentially accelerated ongoing transitions to cash crop adoption. We also find that perceptions of recovery varied widely among and within the typical predictors of recovery, such as caste and farm size, in sometimes unexpected ways. Although postdisaster recovery has material and psychosocial dimensions, our work shows that these may not change in the same direction.

Participatory modeling and development practice: Artisanal fishers in Nicaragua

Journal Paper
Christian Casillas & Isha Ray
Development in Practice (forthcoming)
Publication year: 2018


Development plans with insufficient knowledge about local realities, and that do not share technical or planning details with the target communities, bedevil development practice. We used a form of participatory modeling in three fishing communities in Nicaragua to enable fishers to explore their economy and the potential impacts of fishery-based development projects. Co-designing a model of the fishing economy in the form of a board game created a forum in which facilitators and participants could arrive at a shared understanding of local fishing practices and the costs and benefits of strategies for addressing the fishers’ priorities.

Coping Strategies of Smallholder Farming Communities after the 2015 Nepal Earthquake: Insights into Post-Disaster Resilience and Social–Ecological Change

Journal Paper
Kathleen Epstein, Jessica DiCarlo, Robin Marsh, Isha Ray & Inger Måren
Case Studies in the Environment.
Publication year: 2017


Environmental disasters, such as hurricanes, landslides, and earthquakes, are pervasive and disproportionately affect rural and poor populations. The concept of resilience is typically used in disaster scenarios to describe how a community or person is able to “bounce back” from a disaster event. At the same time, resilience theory also contends that disasters, or environmental shocks, can produce or initiate profound changes in social and ecological systems. This case uses a post-disaster resilience assessment to examine how the series of earthquakes that hit central Nepal in 2015 impacted farming communities. Mid-montane smallholder farming communities near the epicenters of the earthquakes were the most affected and the associated damages impeded traditional and subsistence agricultural practices. Our results show how some aspects of the Nepali farming social–ecological system (SES) bounced back more quickly than others and how farmers used various types of coping strategies, including the adoption of labor-saving cash crops as part of their post-disaster recovery. The increased interest in cash crops after the earthquake accelerates an ongoing transition toward more market activities in subsistence communities and illustrates the potential of environmental shocks to transform and change SESs.

Investing in Gender-Equal Sustainable Development

UN Discussion Paper
Isha Ray
United Nations Women Discussion Paper
Publication year: 2016

This paper develops an agenda for investing in sustainable development, with particular emphasis on local priorities, poverty alleviation and gender equality.

Sustainable development can take many different pathways, even within the dominant ‘three-pillar’ paradigm (economy-environment-society) of sustainability. The paper thus argues that any sustainable development pathway must include an explicit commitment to gender equality in both its conceptualization and implementation. It highlights four ‘mundane’ sectors in which investments at scale could be potentially transformative and should therefore be substantially increased: domestic water, safe sanitation, clean(er)-burning cookstoves, and domestic electricity services.

This paper was produced for UN Women’s flagship report the World Survey on the Role of Women in Development 2014: Gender and Sustainable Development. It is now also released as part of the UN Women discussion paper series.

The Contested Commons: Conversations Between Economists and Anthropologists

Pranab Bardhan & Isha Ray
Malden and Oxford: Blackwell Publishing.
Publication year: 2008

The Contested Commons explores the theme of common environmental resources from the dual perspectives of economics and anthropology, with a focus on developing countries

  • Contributed readings written by senior scholars in the fields of Economics, Anthropology, and Sociology
  • Looks at the challenges of interdisciplinary work in the social sciences, illustrating the variation in approaches/methodology
  • Focuses on economic security, ecological sustainability, identity formation, and participatory decision-making, particularly in the developing world

Outcomes and processes in economics and anthropology

Book ChapterJournal Paper
Isha Ray
Economic Development and Cultural Change, 54: 677 – 694
Publication year: 2006

The premise of this article is that outcomes of economic models and process analyses of anthropology are both essential for understanding social phenomena, including those surrounding the commons. An explanation of any model outcome is invariably about process and structure—the outcomes of several models are compatible with many different causal processes. Anthropologists also pay equal attention to exclusions and inclusions, to the said as well as the unsaid. In that spirit, one must ask if models of resource management that are silent on, for example, influence or the desire for dignity implicitly suggest that these factors are less important to cooperation than economic and ecological factors. This article argues that policy advice has to take into account the explicit findings of a model as well as its silences. Finally, anthropologists are critical of economic models for their simplicity and allegedly obvious outcomes. But models of common‐pool resources can and do provide anthropologists with points of departure for their own research. Additionally, models can surprise us with counterintuitive results, especially with respect to emergent phenomena. Such results should be an invitation to anthropologists to investigate new social processes that were hitherto not anticipated.

Methodological Approaches to the Question of the Commons

Book ChapterJournal Paper
Pranab K Bardhan & Isha Ray
Economic Development and Cultural Change, 54: 655 – 676
Publication year: 2006

In this essay we argue that the key barriers to interdisciplinary work between economists and anthropologists are differences of methodology and epistemology—in what the two disciplines consider important to explain and how they evaluate the criteria for a good explanation. The essay is an introduction to three articles, on economics, anthropology, and the question of the commons, that illustrate some of these differences and that suggest both the potential and the pitfalls of trying to bridge these methodological gaps. Our goal is not somehow to resolve the differences. Rather, we are motivated by the belief that understanding what is important to the other discipline, and seeing the differences in the light of that understanding, is important for interdisciplinary work and for respectful conversation. We have highlighted three dichotomies that are emblematic of some of these differences: autonomy versus embeddedness, outcomes versus processes, and parsimony versus complexity. We hope that our discussion leads economists and anthropologists to reexamine the assumptions and modes of analysis that prevail within the disciplines and to open up new conversations in new directions.