Transforming Disaster Response: The Innovative Approach to Anticipatory Action in Nepal


In a world where natural disasters are becoming more frequent, action must be taken. In this academic blog, PhD student Beas Banerjee explains how drones can help to measure household vulnerability and lead to better emergency responses to earthquakes and flooding. 

Nepal's far western region, nestled amid challenging terrains, has recently experienced a series of devastating natural disasters, leaving communities vulnerable and exposed to harsh realities. In October 2023, a 5.3 magnitude earthquake struck the Bhajang district, Sudurpahchim province, followed by a powerful aftershock on October 7. The subsequent month saw a more potent, 6.4 earthquake in the neighbouring Karnali Province, marking the deadliest seismic event since 2015. Previously in July 2023, around half a dozen bridges were swept away due to flood and subsequent landslides in the region. These disaster events emphasise the need for a paradigm shift in humanitarian response - from reactive to anticipatory action.


Nepal Earthquake Damage

The conventional approach to disaster response, though effective in addressing immediate needs post-disaster, falls short of reaching remote areas promptly. This became evident in the challenges faced by the Sudurpahchim and Karnali provinces, where communication difficulties persisted, hindering rescue and relief efforts. The call for anticipatory action has gained momentum globally, with organisations like the Red Cross, the World Food Programme, the Start Network, and the Food and Agriculture Organization championing the cause.

Accurately identifying and targeting the most vulnerable households remains a primary challenge in implementing anticipatory action. The trade-off between maximising impact by acting earlier and maximising targeting accuracy post-disaster has been an ongoing struggle, especially in hilly and remote areas. At the University of Worcester, we have recognised this dilemma and have taken a step in developing an approach that integrates physical and socioeconomic vulnerability indices through a unique combination of household surveys and UAV technology.

Researchers within the Geography and the Environment school at the University of Worcester have pioneered the use of UAV technologies across a range of research areas, from pollen studies, river management, and flood management, to studying bumblebee habitats in the UK. In collaboration with Nepal Flying Labs and Naxa, we have initiated an innovative project to assess vulnerabilities and enhance regional disaster preparedness.


Flood System Nepal

By integrating UAVs with household survey data, this approach aims to address the longstanding issues of assessing and reaching disaster-affected communities in challenging terrains. Drones are being employed to collect critical environmental data, enabling researchers to monitor river morphology, assess landslide slopes, and identify potential disaster-prone areas. This integration of technology provides a comprehensive understanding of communities' physical vulnerabilities, offering valuable insights for proactive disaster preparedness.

This innovative approach exemplifies the potential for technology to revolutionise humanitarian efforts. By combining the precision of UAV data with nuanced insights from household surveys, it offers a holistic understanding of vulnerabilities in remote regions. As anticipatory action gains prominence in disaster response strategies, such initiatives pave the way for a more proactive and effective approach to mitigating the impact of natural disasters on vulnerable communities.

The success of this collaborative effort may well serve as a model for future research, demonstrating the transformative power of integrating cutting-edge technology with on-the-ground insights to build resilience and save lives. As we witness the evolution of disaster response strategies, the fusion of data, technology, and human compassion can create a more resilient and prepared world, particularly in regions prone to the harsh realities of natural disasters, such as Nepal.

Beas Banerjee is a full-time PhD student in the School of Science and the Environment at the University of Worcester. Beas was appointed to the PhD Studentship Drones, Development and Disaster Risk Reduction in Nepal: Towards an Anticipatory Action Approach.