Leading Bangladeshi planner puts ESPA tools to the test

Professor Robert Nicholls and Alex Chapman, University of Southampton
September 7, 2017

Professor Shamsul Alam, Senior Secretary of the General Economics Division (GED), Government of Bangladesh visited the University of Southampton in late August to continue our collaboration on several large delta-focused projects.

The severe flooding ongoing in Northern Bangladesh, which has destroyed an estimated 640,500 homes, highlights the threat the country faces from a wetter, more extreme, future climate. As head of the General Economics Division, Prof. Alam oversees the development strategy in Bangladesh, including the design of over 70 large projects associated with the Bangladesh Delta Plan 2100, the centrepiece of the country’s response to climate change.

In his meeting with Southampton’s Vice Chancellor and President, Professor Sir Christopher Snowden, Prof Alam emphasised the importance of designing interventions that give consideration to the complexities of the social-ecological system of the Ganges-Brahmaputra-Meghna Delta. In the low-lying delta, where interactions with upstream developments, flooding and storm surges, and rural livelihoods are constantly changing, development interventions can often have detrimental effects if they are not systemically analysed at the planning stage.

Through three ongoing multi-million pound research projects – including ESPA Deltas, the University of Southampton and its partner The Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET) aim to provide integrated systems modelling support to the government. Our work will help stakeholders, drawn from a cross section of society, understand the impacts of future policy trajectories.

On day one of the visit, Prof Robert Nicholls, Principal Investigator of the ESPA Deltas project, reported on our progress in evaluating two of the General Economic Division’s key coastal zone projects. The team are currently calibrating the ESPA Deltas model, ΔDIEM, ready to simulate development of large-scale coastal embankments and natural buffers in the Southwest region. In March 2018, ESPA Deltas will report on the poverty, livelihood, and ecosystem service implications of various different options being looked at in the Delta Plan.

In the next two years, the DECCMA project will provide important insights on migration and adaptation in coastal Bangladesh building on questions raised in the ESPA Deltas Project. This includes considering migration as an adaptation to climate change. DECCMA has also placed emphasis on stakeholder engagement, and aims to provide insights into different migration and adaptation policy trade-offs and choices in the coastal region. Prof Alam is Chair of the Bangladesh National Advisory Expert Group within the DECCMA project – a group of key stakeholders that provides high level direction to the project. On day two we discussed the ESPA and DECCMA projects’ legacies.

In October, Southampton will host a further representative from the Government of Bangladesh, as well as two researchers from BUET, as we aim to build in-country capacity to run and best utilise ΔDIEM and other integrated models for policy evaluation. Both building knowledge sharing and capacity building into ongoing projects, and ensuring a pipeline of technical and research projects into the future are important objectives for General Economics Division, who have strong ambitions for poverty reduction and livelihood improvement in Bangladesh. The team spent a productive afternoon with Prof Alam and Ken de Souza of the UK's Department for International Development discussing how to build a real legacy for the current work.

It was a great pleasure to welcome Prof. Alam to Southampton. His passion for achieving ambitious poverty reduction goals in such a challenging context, and his openness to challenging conventional approaches to policy were impressive. The tools provided within the ESPA Deltas project provide important capacity towards this end. They allow multiple issues to be considered together such as monsoon flooding and salinisation in the dry season and its effects on livelihoods. We look forward to working together further and playing our part in building in-country capacity which will hopefully serve Bangladesh long beyond the lifetime of our research there.

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