Coastal ecosystems, governance and poverty: A case study of managing the Brahmaputra-Ganges mega-delta in a changing world

This project was part of the ESPA scoping phase, which ran between 2008 and 2011. The subsequent application for further funding resulted in NE/J002755/1.

The ecosystem services of deltas often support high population densities - estimated at over 500 million people globally, with important examples in south, south-east and east Asia.

As noted in the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC AR4), deltas are one of the most vulnerable coastal environments and their ecosystem services face multiple stresses in the coming years and decades including (1) local drivers due to development (e.g., urbanisation) within the delta, (2) regional drivers due to changes in catchment management (e.g. dam construction), and (3) global climate change, especially sea-level rise.

Understanding how to sustain ecosystem services and reduce poverty and vulnerability in deltaic areas requires consideration of all these stresses and their interaction. This Partnership and Project Development grant aimed to develop a larger project that would develop methods to understand and characterise these multiple drivers of change for the Ganges-Brahmaputra delta, explore their implications for poverty and vulnerability of the delta residents, and develop management systems that were resilient in the face of the large uncertainties that exist for the 21st Century.

The Ganges-Brahmaputra delta was selected as it was one of the most vulnerable deltas (embracing most of Bangladesh and West Bengal, India), but the methods proposed were transferable to the management of other delta systems in Asia, Africa and South America. This project integrated across multiple scales of investigation that were previously explored independently in different disciplines. Hence, integration of natural science, engineering and social science views were critical and this was a key step which the project explored, building on existing experience in the project team such as within the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research.

The project developed a larger consortium project, NE/J002755/1, that integrated all the above issues for both the baseline and future conditions, using poverty or poverty-related outcomes as the key indicators. The project considered critical intervening factors such as governance and political will in tackling both corruption and the social and economic effects of climate change and other hazards. Poverty outcomes were considered as a much wider spectrum of wellbeing than just money metrics, which may not have been relevant in this setting. We explored the effect of the scenarios on health, education, social capital and security as well as asset poverty and nutritional levels.

Previous research was developed in order to understand the effects of differing underlying resilience and vulnerability levels among the coastal populations. Particular interest was focussed on possible thresholds of social capital and material wellbeing, after which the multiple stresses above would have catastrophic effects, including knock on effects such as mass migration. Analysis occurred at various levels - including effects on the individual, the household, the community, the wider area and ultimately the whole nation and delta.

The project developed the research consortium across three countries (UK, Bangladesh and India) and refined the research questions identified. In particular, it allowed us to embed the research in the Ganges-Brahmaputra to facilitate take-up of policy recommendations in the larger consortium project.

Lead Principal Investigator
Organisation: University of Southampton
Country: United Kingdom
Co Investigator
Organisation: University of Southampton
Country: United Kingdom
Co Investigator
Organisation: University of Southampton
Country: United Kingdom
Co Investigator
Organisation: University of Southampton
Country: United Kingdom
Co Investigator
Organisation: University of Southampton
Country: United Kingdom