In collaboration with the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research and the College of Engineering, CSS Data Scientist Brad Bottoms is participating in research to investigate the impacts of flooding with the aid of the Chitwan Valley Family Study. This multi-decade study investigates the long term wellbeing of families in Nepal’s Chitwan Valley, a previously isolated area that has become the transportation hub of all Nepal due to the construction of roads in the area from the 1980s forward. U-M’s research in the valley began in the 1990s and has continued to the present day, with measures focused on communities, land use, flora diversity, and consumption practices. The team stayed at the facility of the Institute for Social and Environmental Research Nepal (ISER-N), a collaborative partner of the University of Michigan focused on improving human lives and environmental conditions. 

In support of the Chitwan Valley Family Study, Brad Bottoms was able to visit local communities to learn more about their experience being affected by floods. Bottoms notes that the use of the word “flood” is reserved for extreme disasters in the Chitwan Valley context: “While the word ‘flood’ often evokes images of water levels rising up to cover homes and businesses, here it was reserved for large-scale events that reshape landscapes and forcefully swept away structures. Events where water levels rise more slowly and sit in homes, even if levels are high, were referred to as ‘ponding’ and ‘inundation.’ These events happened annually and still disrupted lives and damaged property.”


Stories told by community members included a river slowly encroaching on a family’s land, taking away tens of acres over time and disrupting their ability to use this fertile land to their advantage. Others shared their memories of the 2003 flood, a brutal event that destroyed over 1,400 homes throughout the region. Bottoms notes that “these experiences highlighted not just the immediate impact of major floods, but the ongoing struggle to adapt to a changing environment.”

Through the lens of CSS’ Water, Equity, and Security initiative, studies of the natural landscape and conversations with local families in the Chitwan Valley raise questions about the social impacts of these events on communities. The information raised on this trip represents the beginning of a larger project that will examine how flooding has shaped communities over time. As framing questions, Bottoms suggests considering, first, “were the effects of these events equitable?” Often the most vulnerable populations face a higher risk of experiencing the harshest impacts of flooding events. Also, “how do we monitor long term effects, not just the immediate damage?” Losses of homes, arable land, and other community resources can affect local populations for years beyond the initial flooding event, so continued involvement by researchers and aid organizations is crucial to understanding the best path forward for disaster relief. “These are the types of questions we hope to pose and answer through our work here with the College of Engineering AIDD Labs and the Institute for Social Research (ISR) at the University of Michigan,” says Bottoms.


Investigations of disaster resilience are key to the Center for Social Solutions’ work on water, equity, and security. Our Flood Resilience Assessment Index (FRAI), for example, offers a composite index of the difficulty a given household faces in responding to and recovering from a flooding event, with the hope of providing decision-makers and community leaders insight into the diverse factors that determine disaster risk within their communities. While the initial prototype of this index is situated in southeastern Michigan, its focus on encouraging equitable disaster relief can inform work across borders and contexts. Flood resilience in Nepal, for instance, may require different questions and novel research approaches, but the emphasis on equitable relief remains the same. 

For Brad Bottoms, “this weekend trip serves as a valuable reminder of the importance of local knowledge in understanding complex challenges like climate change. As the Urban Risk Field Lab continues, these insights will inform our work on developing actionable solutions and fostering more resilient communities both at home and abroad.”