Keta – Point of no return

Coast in the Volta delta

Coast in the Volta delta

On 26 July 2015, the DECCMA team visited the district of Keta on the coast of Ghana as part of a field program. The first stop was Fort Prinzenstein on the Gulf of Guinea. Fort Prinzenstein is one of several ‘point of no return’ locations for the slaves who were transported across the Atlantic. It is hard to fathom the thought of those unfortunate souls who were looking at the far away ocean while passing through this ‘point of no return’.

Whilst inside the fort, it was difficult to hear the heart wrenching story of enslavement and the debasement of humanity during the time of slave trading. Fort Prinzenstein has stood for hundreds of years as a reminder of our inhumanity.

Now, half of the fort is gone to the raging sea which is trying to engulf the fort as if to erase our shameful past. In front of half of the fort, a line of sea defence has been erected to protect Keta from further erosion. I could not help but ponder to myself whether, we as mankind, have reached another kind of ‘point of no return’ and this time another human folly – climate change.

The defence is impressive and appears to be impregnable. It took 15 million cubic meters of sand and one million tonnes of granite to build this steely defence. Coming from Bangladesh, I could not help but gaze at this impressive defence with envy, but will it hold against the rising sea? Will it prove to be a successful adaptation to climate change or turn out to be a maladaptation in the end?

Such ‘hold the shoreline’ defences are now necessary given the current threats, but how have we reached this stage? A major cause of increasing sea erosion is the loss of sediment nourishment due to the Akosombo Dam on the Volta River. Research by our Ghana colleagues shows that this sea defence is causing down drift erosion, transferring the risk downstream. The defence is itself at risk due to bottom scouring. Our Indian colleagues informed us that in their part of the Mahanadi delta in Odisha, sand dunes are being looked at more favourably as a better natural defence than hard structures.

For a developing country like Bangladesh, we know how difficult it is to maintain such structures. The construction and maintenance of the sea defence are of much better quality, indicating a better governance system in place in Ghana than in our delta. What makes it tick in Ghana? Can we translate these to our part of the delta where we have to frequently engage armed forces to ensure quality and time of construction?

During the next 4 to 5 years we will have more opportunities to evaluate this impressive defence as an adaptation measure. We intend to learn from it and transfer the learning to our delta. We hope that it will stand its guard. Till then – looking at you Keta!

by Rezaur Rahman, DECCMA Bangladesh

Human Migration and Environment Conference

Street scene in India

Street scene in India

On the 28th June to 1st July, members from DECCMA’s Work Package 3 participated in a conference run by the University of Durham titled Human Migration and the Environment: Futures, Politics, Invention.

Helen Adams led a session on ‘Promoting Successful Migration in Deltas: Ecosystem services, Risk and (Im)mobility’ examining migration under environmental change with a specific focus on deltas in Africa and Asia.

  • Dr Mohammad Nadiruzzaman (University of Exeter, Espa Deltas project) presented on ecosystem services in Bangladesh and the role of place attachment and livelihood patterns on migration responses following Cyclone Sidr.
  • Sara Vigil and Caroline Zickgraf (University of Liege, Helix project) presented findings on migration in the Senegal delta with a particular focus on fishing communities and trapped populations.
  • Using Cyclone Mahasen in Banglandesh as a case study, Dr David Wrathall (UNU-EHS, MDEEP project) demonstrated the value of mobile network data as an approach to monitor and assess behavioural responses of communities affected by natural disaster.
  • Olivia Dun (University of Wollongong) presented findings from a case study in the Mekong Delta in Vietnam to demonstrate how a village’s transition to shrimp farming led to salinization, subsequent out-migration, and an overall decline in community wellbeing and resilience.

The session was well attended by approximately 30 delegates. Questions posed by attendees demonstrated a strong interest in examining deltas as systems with unique environmental challenges and migration responses.

The presentations highlighted that there are certain land use and livelihood patterns common to deltas. Rapid change in land use from agriculture to shrimp is common to both the Bangladesh and Mekong delta. Artisanal fisheries and occupational immobility are common to both the Bangladesh and Senegal delta. There is reason to hypothesize, therefore, that there are broad patterns of migration that may be more consistent with deltaic systems.

However, the presentations highlighted the range of ways that migration is used to support human wellbeing in deltas. For example, in the Mekong, out migration was a result of development of shrimp aquaculture. However, in the Senegal delta there were examples of immobility and reluctance to move even for improved livelihoods. In the case of Cyclone Mahasen, migration patterns during the cyclone could be subsumed into broader patterns – there was not a cyclone-specific flow.

Overall, conference discussions showed a growing awareness within the migration and climate change research community of the influence researchers have in shaping public discourse. The example of ‘climate refugees’ as having provoked alarmism was one example provided that demonstrates the need for researchers to be careful in how we frame discussions to avoid perverse outcomes.

The conference was a valuable opportunity to build the profile of DECCMA’s research, learn from other research happening in the field, and to expand on our existing networks. Further information on the conference can be found here:

Summary: DECCMA Northern Team Meeting

northern team meeting

Northern team meeting

Even with the abundance of technological advances and communication options, the DECCMA team recognises and highly values extended time for face-to-face meetings. In May the DECCMA Northern team, a sub-set of the wider consortia, led by the University of Southampton met in Bilbao, Spain for three days. The Basque Centre for Climate Change (BC3), a sub-contractor of Southampton, hosted the meeting in their offices in central Bilbao. As well as BC3 and University of Southampton team members, the meeting was attended by partners from the University of Exeter, University of Dundee, Plymouth Marine Laboratories (PML) and the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).

The Northern Team meet every six months, in-between six monthly whole consortium meetings which involve the full project team with partners from Bangladesh, India and Ghana present. The objectives for Northern Team in Bilbao were to examine research progress by work package, review communications and team building across the consortium, discuss project outreach and publication plans and crucially, consider the basis for a coherent and well-structured Research into Use (RiU) strategy for the project.
Stakeholder mapping for the study sites were reviewed with discussions focusing on how the project can encourage stakeholders with a low interest but high potential influence to become more engaged with the project. Analysis of governance policy and acts has started, with a broad collation of available literature for the delta study sites; next steps will involve analysing policies for a better understanding of how internal movements of people may or may not be encouraged. Corresponding stakeholder workshops have been held in study sites to supplement this work.

GIS experts and biophysical environmental modellers have been collecting data on climate hazards (flooding, salinity levels etc) from study sites to construct first pass hazard vulnerability maps for the project study sites. The overlaying of these hazard vulnerability maps with separate migration maps produced from demographic analysis of census data by the projects migration work package will be the basis for sampling for the project’s household survey. These linkages were discussed by socio-economic and bio-physical experts alike to start the process of developing a robust and comprehensive sampling strategy.

DECCMA’s household survey will provide valuable insight into the drivers of migration and the decision process that drives community and family level adaptation choices. The design of this survey was discussed across all work packages to ensure that the questions are carefully crafted so that results feed into the areas that the project requires. One set of deliverables within the project is to provide criteria for evaluating the success of adaptation and migration in deltas, leading to the development of a rule-set for each. The process of defining ‘success’ was discussed in breakout sessions, starting with the identification of key criteria and indicators used to score them.

DECCMA will combine a section of project results into a policy-relevant integrated assessment tool, enabling scenarios to be run through the model, producing plausible and possible future states for a range of thematic areas. The conceptualisation of the factors that contribute the integrated tool have been formalised in a draft framework, which was circulated around the project for comment in early 2015. A revised draft framework was discussed at this meeting, along with a potential basis for the integrated assessment tool, the Delta Dynamic Interactive Emulator Model (DIEM) used in the ESPA Deltas project. Furthermore, an iterative learning loop of policy interaction and scenario development was tabled for discussion. This loop will take simulations that the integrated assessment tool produces back to stakeholders for discussion, to see if how they rate the plausible future that was generated under their initial scenarios, and to discuss what policy decisions they might lead to that result.

A large portion of the workshop was dedicated to discussing the development and articulation of a clear RiU strategy for the project. The team reviewed components that should be included in the strategy and identified where across the project they were already developed and need combining into one document. A precise ‘two-pager’ was developed to summarise the project’s impact aims, methods and activities that will be involved in achieving these goals and required resourcing. This will be developed into a full RiU strategy.

The workshop closed with planning for the upcoming DECCMA Whole Consortium Workshop in Ghana in July, the next occasion where representatives of the entire DECCMA project from Bangladesh, India, Ghana and the UK meet.

American Association of Geographers Meeting, Chicago April 2015

by Craig Hutton

DECCMA team members Dr Andres Payo Garcia and Dr. Craig Hutton (Southampton University) attended and presented on ESPA Deltas at the recent American Association of Geographers in the city of Chicago, USA. The meeting session was organised by Cologne University in Germany and Ohio State University who have been collaborating on a project called Band-AID ( which is of direct relevance to DECCMA and operates a small number of case studies within the DECCMA study site in Bangladesh. The intention of the Band-AID project is to build a robust Belmont Challenge identified Earth System Analysis & Prediction System (ESAPS) for Bangladesh, to adapt/mitigate the detrimental hazards including sea-level rise. We will establish an advanced observation system based on contemporary space geodetic sensors to quantify (1) causes of sea-level rise and land motion and their robust vertical datum link, and (2) human interactions that governs coastal vulnerability in Bangladesh.

Additionally a highly relevant project called ISEE Bangladesh lead by Vanderbilt University presented on materials from a small series of detailed studies, some of which occurred in the DECCMA study site. ISEE aims to (1) identify social and environmental factors most important in maintaining stability, from households to communities, or for motivating decisions to migrate; (2) determine how these factors differ within and across diverse social and physical landscapes; and (3) assess how these variables are likely to interact under a variety of scenarios for social and environmental change. In addition it has extensive data on community governance and has carried out a series of ethnographies to this end.

ESPA Deltas presentation demonstrated the broader contextual approach it has undertaken and during a dedicated post session meeting, there was a general consensus that there is a good potential for the projects to develop a high quality paper linking historical land use change with changes in governance typologies, which would be highly informative to DECCMA also. To this end there will be a joint meeting of the projects on June 18th at the University of Southampton with some 10 researchers involved, where a strategy for the development of the research will be further developed. This is an excellent example of projects cooperating to mutual benefit and to produce a synergistic outcome of value to both the research community and within a joint study site.

CBA9 Report: Community based adaptation and the private sector, Nairobi, Kenya, 26-30 April 2015

by Natalie Suckall

The role of the private sector in enhancing community adaptation was one of the big questions to emerge during the 9th International Conference on Community-Based Adaptation in Nairobi, Kenya.

During four days of discussion and debate we heard from researchers, practitioners and community members who welcome private sector involvement in adaptation and development … and we heard from those who questioned the morality of profit-making organisations benefiting from the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people.

Amongst the stories of success, Salaton Ole Ntutu and Stephen Ole Kisotu, representatives of Kenya’s Massai community, praised M-Pesa, the country’s mobile-phone money transfer and micro-financing service, which they use to buy cows and send money to remote friends and family. Since the launch of M-Pesa in 2007, over 13 billion Euro has been transferred across the network. For many Massai, the service has been life changing. It has put an end to expensive and time consuming bus journeys to physically deliver money and it has increased business productivity. Both are important aspects of adaptation. Speed of transfer means that during events such as drought money can be sent to family in an instant. And increased business productivity enables a household to invest in resilience enhancing activities, such as education and health.

We also heard from Jason Spensley from the UNFCCC’s Climate Technology Centre and Network (CTCN) who highlighted CTCN’s involvement in attracting private sector investment in crop drying practices in Mali where post-harvest loss is likely to be increased by climate change. For Jason Spensley, the take home message is that if the private sector can make profit in the face of climate change, investment will be forthcoming.

But how do we know that investment will lead to successful adaptation? And what about the broader moral question; is it right that profit making companies benefit from poverty?

The first question is perhaps a little easier to answer. Simply, we can never be sure a new investment will lead to success. But as Salameel Huq (IIED/BCAS) pointed out, during a session on enhancing the effectiveness of adaptation, perhaps this doesn’t matter. In fact, perhaps we should seek failure in order to understand what works, and more importantly, what doesn’t work. This point was echoed by Clare Shakya, from the UK’s Department for International Development, where failure is now discussed in a more transparent and constructive way than has previously been the norm, and where high-risk entrepreneurial adaptation initiatives are encouraged.

The second question is more difficult to answer; is it right to make money from poverty? The exploitation of vulnerable farming communities is not new and even in the context of learning from failure, few would suggest we actively follow strategies that we know will lead to mal-adaptation and increased vulnerability. Perhaps though, instead of viewing the private sector as being solely motivated by greed, it is possible to envisage a more nuanced situation; one where both farmer and business gain from a partnership.

For example, Suresh Patel from the Kenya Private Sector Alliance explained how local farmers’ poor understanding of economics of production and agricultural markets resulted in the small-holders he works with selling their cassava for less than it cost to produce. Conversely, the same farmers expected local buyers to purchase baobab fruit at vastly inflated prices. The buyers refused and the fruit remains unsold and uneaten.

But if farmers had some understanding of business, as well as access to real-time crop prices, they may be more likely to expect and achieve favourable rates. M-Farm, a Kenyan organisation, is a ‘transparency tool’ that links farmers to buyers and provides information on current market trends. Sellers download an app, or send an SMS, to receive the latest crop prices. The technology can’t prevent the kind of fluctuations in crop prices that climate variability creates. But it can help farmers remain one step ahead.

Even the most laudable private sector initiatives are, at least in part, driven by self-interest and the drive for profit. Arguably, these qualities are an unavoidable part of the human condition. We cannot avoid them, but we can regulate them. For example, a text based phone service that charges customers excessive prices to receive information is exploitative. Rules around maximum charges could prevent this.

There is great potential for the private sector to offer innovative solutions to development and adaptation challenges. However, regulation is necessary if the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people are to benefit in an accessible and equitable manner.

DECCMA PhD Seminar, 29 April

phd seminar

PhD seminar

As part of DECCMA, a group of postgraduate research students has been established across the project partners. In total, there are about 20 PhD students working within the project, with a substantial and vibrant group of six based at the University of Southampton. Their work complements one another by examining how people are adapting to the physical effects of climate change, covering a broad range of topics from the physical aspects of deltas to their socio-economical dynamics. In order to showcase this cross-faculty postgraduate research group on deltas and to give these early-career researchers the opportunity to present their work and to engage with experts in the area of mutual interests and expertise, the students organised a seminar series hosted by the School of Geography and the Environment of the University of Southampton.

The inaugural event occurred on the 29th of April 2015, where the postgraduate research students presented their research, with an emphasis on their objectives, methods and conceptual frameworks. Around 50 people attended the seminar, coming from a broad range of organisations (University of Southampton, University of Sussex, Oxfam) and disciplines (geography, environmental sciences, social sciences, engineering).

The first part of the event, chaired by Professor Steve Darby (head of the Department of Geography and the Environment at the University of Southampton), started with an introduction to DECCMA by Professor Robert Nicholls. Afterwards, Sarah Spinney presented her research on how morphological evolutions affect the sustainability of deltas, followed by Greg Cooper who discussed socio-ecological tipping points of deltas.

After a first round of questions, the second part of the seminar took place, chaired by Dr Craig Hutton (GeoData Institute). Qazi Waheed-Uz-Zaman explored the potential for social enterprise as a driver of community management in the GBM delta. This presentation, bridging both environmental sciences and socioeconomics, was followed by a talk with a similar approach given by Tristan Berchoux on the links between natural hazards, agriculture and the long-term dynamics of rural livelihood. Later, Margherita Fanchiotti gave a presentation on modelling community resilience to tropical cyclones in the Mahanadi delta. Following this speech, and based on the same community-based approach, Giorgia Prati presented her research on gender and adaptation in deltas. Finally, Professor John Dearing (Professor in Physical Geography at the University of Southampton) concluded the event by giving a vibrant summary of DECCMA and the contribution of PhD students to its outputs.

As a conclusion, it is important to highlight the outputs of this inaugural event. For the students, as early career researchers, the seminar has given them the opportunity to have feedback at initial stages of their project, from a broad range of people working in a variety of disciplines and organisations. Moreover, it has allowed them and the project to gain more visibility by showcasing innovative research from the early stages of conceptualisation. Last but not least, the event gave to all of the participants the opportunity to network, especially with representatives from the sister project ASSAR and students from other universities.

Building on this successful event, the next seminar in the series will be held in six-months’ time, with an in-depth focus on two of the research projects. The DECCMA PhD students from the University of Southampton will also be creating a network with other students from India, Bangladesh and Ghana, the next step will be to create a vibrant network with all the DECCMA PhD students. This group would then enjoy liaising with PhD students from the other CARIAA consortia.

DECCMA PhD Seminar, 29 April 2015, University of Southampton

phd seminar 1A crucial element of DECCMA has been the establishment of post graduate research groups across the project partners with a substantial and vibrant group based here at the University of Southampton. The School of Geography and the Environment, with the support of other faculties hosts 6 of these students and will be holding a Seminar Series which profile their work in examining how people are adapting to the physical effects of climate change, such as sea level rise, alongside socio-economic pressures, including land degradation and population pressure, in delta regions. The aim of this series is to showcase DECCMA and the cross-faculty conceptual research groups on deltas, and to give an opportunity for the PhD associates to present their work.

As such we would like to formally invite you to participate in this meeting to both inform you regarding the progress of this significant project and to encourage what has been a strongly lead student process. Details are as follows:

DECCMA Postgraduate Seminar Series:

April 29, 2015 14:00-17:00
Building 44 / Lecture Theatre A
Highfield Campus, University of Southampton


14:00 – 14:15 Welcome and brief introduction to DECCMA (Robert Nicholls, PI)
14:20 – 14:30 Morphological evolution and the sustainability of deltas in the 21st century (Sarah Spinney)
14:30 – 14:40 Socio-ecological tipping points in world deltas (Gregory Cooper)
14:40 – 14:50 First round of questions (Chair)
15:00 – 15:10 Social enterprise and innovation in the GBM Delta (Qazi Waheed-Uz-Zaman)
15:10 – 15:20 Livelihood dynamics and food security under a changing climate (Tristan Berchoux)
15:20 – 15:30 Modelling tropical cyclone resilience in the Mahanadi Delta (Margherita Fanchiotti)
15:30 – 15:40 Gender and adaptation in the Mahanadi Delta (Giorgia Prati)
15h40 – 16h Second round of questions (Chair)
16h – 16h15 Concluding Remarks (Chair)
16h20 – 17h Tea and coffee with posters
Frances Dunn,
Balaji Angamuthu
Sarwar Hossain Sohel