Hydro-Social Deltas


Peer reviewed publications

Wesselink A, Kooij M, Warner J (2017) Socio-hydrology and hydrosocial analysis: towards dialogues across disciplines. WIREs Water 4(2)

We do a thorough literature review of the ways in which water has recently been conceptualized by both natural and social scientists as either hydro-social or socio-hydrological. We do this in order to discuss whether and how they can be compatible, in order to enable dialogue across disciplines. The reviewed research indicates different, contradictory rationales for addressing ecological and social challenges related to the complex human/water interactions. Selecting the appropiate conceptualisation is crucial for effective solutions. We conclude that there is scope in combining both approaches without antagonistically questioning respective fundamental assumptions, playing to the strengths of each. However, non-jargonistic communication and reflexivity about value assumptions is crucial.

Visual representation of different research paradigms on socio-hydrological systems

Wesselink A, Warner J, Abu Syed S, Chan F, Duc Tran D, Huq H, Huthoff F, Le Thuy N, Pinter N, Van Staveren M, Wester P, Zegwaard A (2015) Trends in flood risk management in deltas around the world: are we going ‘soft’? International Journal of Water Governance 3(4) 25-46

We ask whether there are any trends visible in flood risk management (FRM) worldwide reviewing literature and personal experience. We compare FRM strategies in 6 deltas worldwide: Rhine/Meuse/Scheldt (The Netherlands), Pearl River (China), Mekong (Vietnam), Ganges/Brahmaputra/Meghna (Bangladesh) Zambezi/Limpopo (Mozambique), and Mississippi (USA).  We categorise FRM into five types of FRM measures. We find that in many countries, but by no means universally, the emphasis is shifting from 'hard' engineering towards non-structural 'soft' measures, while the 'hard' responses are softened in some by a 'building with nature' approach. The application of 'hard' FRM technology leads to a technological ‘lock-in’ that is ecologically, socially and economically unsustainable. By contrast, ‘soft’ FRM is typically flexible, allowing a range of future options. The results should lead to serious reflection on whether 'hard' FRM should be recommended when 'soft' FRM options are still open.

Pinto Mosquera, Cristina (2017) The effects of the high water and evacuation of 1995 in the lives of the residents in the Riverland and the Dutch Duffelt area. Wageningen University MSc Environmental Sciences internship report. 

Cristina’s research internship investigated the social response/impact of the flood evacuation of the Rivierenland (between the rivers Rhine and Meuse) in 1995. In a video documentary Cristina records the differences in perceptions of the evacuation experience and the resulting social impact in terms of higher levels of flood awareness. She records different perceptions of the evacuation (some positive, some negative, critical of government), but finds that despite a higher level of flood awareness by those affected, there has been very little social response in terms of current flood disaster preparedness. The majority of respondents still place a high level of trust in the government and in the flood infrastructure to protect them from floods. Her conclusion is that while flood event evacuees of 1995 are more aware of flood risk they have not taken any individual actions as a result of their awareness

Video documentary

The findings of these two research projects show that through comparing socio-hydrological spaces in The Netherlands to socio-hydrological spaces in Bangladesh we can identify the low levels of social response to flood risk/management in the Netherlands in comparison to Bangladesh. Analysis of the impact of hydro-social system dynamics on resilience planning (one development process) in Walcheren reveals that there is almost no social response to a high level of flood risk in the Netherlands, because of the high level of technical intervention. Thus, flood resilience or disaster management could address this, specifically in terms of improving the efficiency and success of future flood evacuations. Second, as we note that Walcheren is a very different socio-hydrological space than in the NW of BGD, where floodplains with high flood risk have a low or medium level technical intervention but a high social response/impact. The impact of these different socio-hydrological spaces on flood resilience strategies or flood disaster management plans reveal that NL might have a lot to learn from BGD in terms of developing higher level of social resilience, and non-governmental organisation and involvement. The social response to a high level of flood risk in the Netherlands is very low. Thus, flood disaster or resilience planning could address this by learning from the Bangladesh resilience strategies
Mizanur looked at differences in urban investment (social response) between socio-hydrological spaces: how do levels of infrastructure/technical interventions change social responses (financial investment). He found that levels of economic investment are to some extent different dependent on the level of protection provided by infrastructure. This provides an urban perspective on socio-hydrological spaces in NW Bangladesh. Comparisons of financial investment made into land and property by households with different levels of flood protection by river embankments found higher investment in Sirajganj, a place with higher levels of protection (Figure right). Lower levels of investment by households into land and property in Gaibanda (Figure left) was attributed to higher flood risk, although overall lack of available land forces individuals to accept the risk, rather than move elsewhere. High population growth and high number of children in families leave few options for individuals seeking to reduce flood risk by relocating to land behind embankments.

Brahmaputra Right Embankment (BRE) at Gaibanda (left) and Sirajganj (right)
The FHRC research finds that both temporary and local migration is a key coping strategy of the residents affected by 2016 floods, but still long term resilience of the households who use migration as a coping strategy may be declining. All of the residents in the villages have experienced floods and erosion in the past – having moved home typically 2-10 times in their lifetime, even those living currently in locations at low erosion risk proved to have moved there due to past river erosion elsewhere. Over the past five years on average households report that their livelihoods have improved based on rising incomes from sources in their villages and from migration (more days worked and increasing wages), but landholdings have declined due to erosion, and costs also increase, and hazard events caused loss of assets, so that most households report running down savings. Hence while immediate coping ability appears to be improving, long term resilience may be declining. Migration has costs as well as benefits, and households may at best manage to recover their lives after floods and erosion since the vast majority reported that savings had declined in the past five years. The FHRC research thereby presents results relevant for actors advocating more national policy attention to small regional urban centers. Based on their interviews with households and migrants they identify development interventions which could reduce the ‘risk’ associated with migration and improve the lives of women who are left behind in villages. Interventions to reduce risk include: improving sanitation and housing areas for seasonal migrants in urban areas, investments in transportation infrastructure to reduce travel costs. Also, as seasonal migration for work in their research sites almost always involves men, leaving women living at home to take care of the children and the family, livestock, etc, there are interventions specific to women and the problems they face in terms of food supply, health, and indebtedness. If male migrants do not manage to send money on time some families send their school going children for work to cope with the situation, or take high interest loans from money lenders. In the most erosion affected of the sites surveyed (in Gaibandha) no NGO gives loans as they are considered "floating people" and have no permanent address or property.

Vriens, Wout (2017) Framing Migration in the context of Climate Change in Bangladesh. IHE Delft research report. 

This research assesses whether the portrayal of rural-urban migration in Bangladesh as a consequence of climate change in international academia corresponds with the opinions current in Bangladesh. Discourse analysis of interviews with key actors in Dhaka and document analysis form the basis of the study. The research examines the emergence and problems of current dominant policy narratives which naturalize ‘climate migration’. By this we mean the portrayal of migration from (largely) rural to urban areas as a direct effect of increased flood risk induced by climate change. We find that most studies in Bangladesh on the relationships between ‘climate change’ and ‘migration’, naturalise the topic by depoliticisation: they suggest that displacement is an inevitable’ consequence of changing weather conditions and/or population dynamics, in spite of the fact that a long history of research has shown that environmental degradation interacts in a complex way with other factors, both push and pull, in shaping livelihood and migration strategies. This includes the role of interconnections between the rural landlords and political power at the national level, as well as a weak state system, that allow local deployment of violence and power to remain unpunished. However, policy documents and policy-oriented research, both from the Government of Bangladesh and from international donors, fail to take into account such studies on abuses of power and land grab as causes for migration. The policy discourse in such policy documents remains highly ‘simplistic’: the impact of climate change is unquestioned, held to overrule all other push factors, and to present reason for alarm. Such framing of migration as climate change-induced has strategic advantages when applying for donor funding, but it addresses the wrong problems.