The urban political ecology of ‘haphazard urbanisation’ and disaster risk creation in the Kathmandu valley, Nepal

Dilli Prasad Poudel*, Sophie Blackburn, Rojani Manandhar, Binod Adhikari, Jonathan Ensor, Anushiya Shrestha, Netra Prasad Timsina

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This paper examines the impact of rapid urbanisation on the production of unequal disaster risk in Khokana, peri-urban town in the Kathmandu Valley (KV), Nepal. It brings together scholarships in disaster risk creation and urban political ecology (UPE), asking: (1) what are the roots of Khokana's specific urbanisation trajectory; (2) how is this trajectory altering geographies of hazard risks in Khokana; and (3) how is this risk unevenly distributed between social groups. The data reveal overlapping forms of risk and precarity affecting residents' (long-standing and migrants) everyday lives, in ways that disproportionately impact already-disadvantaged and marginalised groups. These unequal risk geographies are related to the specific forms and processes of urban growth occurring in Khokana, fuelled by three powerful, interconnected pressures: neoliberal capitalist expansion, internal migration, and a strong developmental state. We characterise the resulting form of urbanisation as ‘haphazard’: a patchwork of planned and unplanned developments, with inadequate attention to hazard risk, livelihood stability and essential services. The paper advances understanding of the place- and historically-specific ways that hazard risk intersects with social, political and economic forces to produce disaster risk in rapidly-urbanising centres. We extend calls for more situated UPE analysis and call for greater, more granular attention to forms of haphazard urbanisation and their uneven risk-producing qualities. We conclude an urgent need to reimagine urban development as a political and economic project, and for future urban planning to pay deliberate and deliberative attention to risk factors, both in KV and in other rapidly urbanising areas of the global South.

Original languageEnglish
Article number103924
Number of pages19
JournalInternational Journal of Disaster Risk Reduction
Early online date25 Aug 2023
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2023

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The paper is structured as follows. Section 2 introduces urban political ecology as our theoretical lens on the interconnection between urbanisation and disaster risk production. This is followed by a review of historic and current urbanisation trends and the urban planning tradition in Kathmandu in Section 3, and an overview of data collection in Section 4. In Section 5, we will show how haphazard urbanisation is affecting the peri-urban geography and people of Khokana, shaping uneven risks to future disasters. In Section 6, we present a discussion focusing on unequal risk creation. Finally, Section 7 concludes this paper, summarising key contributions and policy recommendations. The paper draws on data collected as part of UKRI GCRF-funded project Tomorrow's Cities (see also [24,25]), which seeks to reduce disaster risk for the poor in rapidly urbanising cities of the global South.The above factors mean the central government has identified Khokana as the focus for several strategic, large scale and multi-billion rupees construction projects, which are being funded by the federal government, international organisations such as the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and private business companies. The ongoing major development projects of Khokana include: (i) a 72.5 km long “fast track” road project to connect KV with Tarai [68], (ii) the smart cities project [69], as part of plans to develop smart cities in all four corners of KV [70], (iii) the 72 km outer ring road project to connect peri-urban settlements and planned smart cities [71], and (iv) the high-tension transmission line project to fulfil the increasing demand of power supply in urbanising KV [72]. Except the outer ring road, all of these projects pass via Khokana and use its land. The effects of these intensive development projects are felt in the local Newari livelihoods and culture [73], and are generating new socio-spatial patterns of urban growth or change that are altering exposure to hazards. These shifts to date remain unexplored, and are a focus of this paper.

Funding Information:
We highly appreciate the people of Khokana, specially the respondents, who dedicated a lot of time and interacted with us throughout the research period. We would like to express our sincere thanks to three anonymous reviewers, whose comments were extremely helpful in guiding changes to the structure and framing of the paper and greatly elevated its quality overall. We deeply thank Rachana Upadhyaya for her assistance during early stages of the fieldwork. We acknowledge funding from UKRI GCRF under grant NE/S009000/1, Tomorrow's Cities Hub.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023 The Authors


  • Haphazard urbanisation
  • Kathmandu
  • Tomorrow's cities
  • Unequal disaster risk creation
  • Urban political ecology
  • Vulnerability

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