Doctoral Dissertations

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



Major Professor

Liem Tran

Committee Members

Micheline van Riemsdijk, Nicholas Nagle, Robert E. Jones


The goal of this research was to examine the vulnerability of the human and natural systems to anthropogenic threats and environmental changes at five villages (Kiteghe, Makwasinyi, Jora, Bungule, and Rukanga) in Mt. Kasigau, Kenya. To accomplish this goal, three research objectives were pursued: (1) to assess the vulnerability of the human system, (2) to assess the vulnerability of the natural system, and (3) to assist the community in identifying, evaluating, and prioritizing ways for reducing vulnerability. These three objectives linked together and are structured in three manuscripts in this dissertation.This study adapted a vulnerability framework that conceptualized vulnerability as a function of ‘exposure’, ‘sensitivity’, and ‘adaptive capacity’. The Analytical Hierarchy Process (AHP), which is a multi-criteria decision-making tool is used to structure vulnerability into a hierarchical format and to build a vulnerability assessment and reduction model based upon the benefits, costs, opportunities, and risks criteria in order to evaluate each alternative.Results from this study illustrated that adaptive capacity and exposure played a critical role in determining the social and environmental vulnerability among the five villages. Therefore, measures to reduce vulnerability should emphasize these two components of vulnerability, especially for the most vulnerable village. Additionally, the vulnerability reduction model that was used by the community identified environmental conservation as the most preferred alternative for reducing vulnerability. The information derived from this research can help local policymakers, non-governmental organization, and other practitioners who are interested in developing policies that promote sustainable development.Lastly, this place-based dissertation research contributes to the discipline of geography by emphasizing how vulnerabilities vary across space and time. It also advances the body of knowledge in vulnerability and sustainability studies through bridging the gap between socio-ecological and biophysical dimension of vulnerability. The need to understand the issue of vulnerability was essential if we are to realize sustainable development. Hence, this study advances sustainability literature by identifying the economic, social, and environmental factors of vulnerability that create barriers to sustainable development at the community level (e.g., village). In this regard, this study could play a vital role in creating a platform for scholars who are interested in vulnerability and sustainability studies.

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