Hydro-Social Deltas

Understanding flows of water and people to improve policies and strategies for disaster risk reduction and sustainable development of delta areas in the Netherlands and Bangladesh.

This project focuses on hydro-social dynamics in the urbanising Netherlands Ganges-Brahmaputra- Meghna delta (Bangladesh) and urbanised Netherlands Rhine-Meuse-Scheldt delta (Netherlands). It aims to: i) better understand the interplay between hydrological and social processes in urbanizing deltas, ii) develop novel methods to cope with the dynamic nature of environmental (including climate) disaster risk and its spatial distribution, and iii) support the development of new policies for flood risk reduction, addressing rural-urban migration (in Bangladesh) and demographic trends (in the Netherlands), notably through building stakeholder capacity and strengthening local governance capacities. This project will analyse the interactions and feedbacks between water and human systems via empirical and comparative analyses and unpack flows of migration and demographic change. The advanced understanding of the complex web of interactions between dynamic physical and social process will help improve current policies for disaster risk reduction and urban development in delta areas.


This project will develop a conceptual framework for analysing deltas as highly interdependent humanwater systems to examine the interplay between hydrological (flooding, riverbank erosion, waterlogging) and social processes (demographic shifts, urbanization processes, governance) in the urbanizing delta of Bangladesh and the urbanized delta of the Netherlands. Obvious differences aside, both countries are involved in long-term climate change-induced system planning in dynamic deltas.

The project will acknowledge the dynamic interactions and feedback loops between demographic and physical changes, urban processes, mobility and flood risk. This advanced understanding will be used to: shift existing simplifying policy discourse on 'climate refugees' and negative perceptions of urban
migration; improve the implementation and coordination between existing policies; reduce vulnerability for migrants and support sustainable pro-poor development approaches in Bangladesh; increase flood resilience in the Netherlands and Bangladesh.

A trans-disciplinary research approach will work at the interface between social science and hydrological science to question key assumptions regarding the one-way processes of environmental and climate migration now guiding urban DRR and delta policies and dominating the media. The research will also work at the policy/research interface to inform policy discourse and raise awareness of policy makers and planners in regards to the linkages between demographic and hydrological flows, and the impacts of this relationship on existing plans and policies.

The project will include two PhD studies based on coordinated fieldwork primarily in Bangladesh that will focus on understanding how the interactions and feedbacks between water and human systems impact on DRR strategies and urban development, and vice versa. It will pay particular attention to ways in which governance processes in both physical disaster sites and host locations affect migration and human interventions, which will (in turn) affect the physical environment.

A post-doctoral position will combine the empirical data and the outcomes of the two PhD studies to: explore how demographic transitions in southwest Netherlands impact Dutch flood management policies; develop a conceptual model for understanding flows of water and flows of people; examine how post-urbanisation trajectories such as that followed by the Netherlands may inform future planning elsewhere, with Bangladesh as a focus country.

A third, overarching research programme to be carried out by the more senior consortium members and MSc students under their guidance, will integrate research findings from both the Netherlands and Bangladesh.

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