Reflections on research ethics in DECCMA

by Sumana Banerjee, DECCMA India coordinator

During the past 4.75 years, DECCMA created plenty of opportunities for interaction with communities. When interacting with communities, the question of ethics comes into the minds of researchers and funders.

When researchers from universities in the UK visited delta communities in India, they had detailed participant information sheets, consent forms, and debriefing notes as a part of their universities’ ethical requirements to conduct interviews with communities. Most Indian universities do not have such processes in place. For us in Jadavpur University, the only ethical consideration form available is used by the Department of Pharmacy for clinical trials. This does not mean that we did not follow any ethical processes while interacting with communities. We had designed simplified forms to cover all bases for ethics, such as anonymity of participants, non-disclosure of their personal details, freedom to withdraw from the interview at any point, contact persons in case they have queries or requests after the interviews etc. and we also resorted to recording verbal consent at times. Now the difference in institutional processes put me in a reflective mood.

Sumana and Jadavpur University researchers conducting fieldwork with students from the University of Southampton

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Having detailed paperwork as proof of following the guidelines and getting signed consent from participants is indeed a great process. However, based on our experience of working with delta communities in India (West Bengal and Odisha), we faced some practical challenges while executing this process, two of which are outlined below along with the solutions we used:

Contact Details:

Challenge – Mentioning contact details of researchers and their supervisors based in the UK is mandatory but this will have no real meaning for the communities as they won’t obviously email (!) nor have the resources to converse with them if they have questions.

Solution – Include contact details of the organisation closest to the participants who are involved in this research, alongside the mandatory mention of the UK researchers and supervisors.

Signed Consent:

Challenge – The research team explains every detail about the purpose of their visit but there are instances when the respondent feels nervous to sign a paper since the fear of “losing something” lurks in their minds. Also, by handing a pen to an illiterate person to sign we end up reinforcing hierarchies.

Solution – It is important to make it clear that no harm would be brought upon them by consenting to participate by sharing how the researcher does not collect their personal details (government ID numbers etc.) and how the researcher is also bound to maintain the anonymity of the respondents. Handing out a stamp pad along with a pen is often a better idea and gives the respondent the comfort of choosing the appropriate tool without them having to explicitly announce if they are literate or illiterate.

Ethics is not limited to these processes alone. It is the duty of any person who interacts with communities for their work, to keep in mind the basics of moral human behaviour. Focus on vulnerable communities at times leads to teams being extractive and manipulative in their interactions. Staging a scene for a photograph interrupting the daily schedule of a respondent, or coaxing them to say what one wants to hear to support already formed ideas are unethical. Research teams should avoid such practices at any cost and if the team is responsible for any other actor who resorts to such practices, it should immediately be discouraged. These actions not only hamper the trust built with the community, but also reduce the possibilities of fruitful interactions in the future.

As research teams and most importantly as human beings, it is our responsibility to try and reduce the vulnerabilities of communities we work with and not reinforce differences. To conclude my reflections, I share the following quote where the poet sums it up beautifully –

“By plucking her petals you do not gather the beauty of the flower.”
― Rabindranath Tagore, Stray Birds

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ASSAR launches MOOC on Research for Impact

DECCMA’s sister project in the Collaborative Adaptation Research Initiative in Africa and Asia (CARIAA), Adaptation at Scale in Semi-Arid Regions (ASSAR) has launched a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) on Research for Impact. The MOOC, available on Coursera, is convened by the University of Cape Town and Oxfam GB and comprises three main learning objectives:

  • Understand the key interwoven elements of Research for Impact in the context of development and adaptation research.

  • Identify the suite of activities involved in Research for Impact.

  • Appraise opportunities in your research plan through an Research for Impact lens and identify challenges applying a Research for Impact approach.

    The 15 hour course with flexible deadlines is free to take (with a fee payable if you require a certificate) and includes experiences from the other CARIAA projects, including DECCMA.

CARIAA releases a series of “novel insights” into climate change, migration, and gender and social equity

Marking the end of the Collaborative Adaptation Initiative in Africa and Asia (CARIAA), IDRC has released a series of “novel insights”. These briefs capitalise on thematic learnings across the four CARIAA consortia that have been investigating adaptation in different hotspots – DECCMA in deltas, ASSAR and PRISE in semi-arid regions and economies, and HiAWARE in glacier-fed river basins. The novel insights synthesise findings on migration, gender and social equity, effective adaptation, the impact of a 1.5C increase in global temperature on the different hotspots, and research for impact.


Special issue “Delineating climate change impacts on biophysical conditions in deltas” in Science of the Total Environment

A special issue of Science of the Total Environment on “Delineating climate change impacts on biophysical conditions in deltas” has just been published, edited by DECCMA team members Kwasi Appeaning Adddo, Anisul Haque, Chris Hill, Robert Nicholls, Venkat Raju, Paul Whitehead. The special issue contains the following DECCMA papers:

Arto, I., García-Muros, X. Cazcarro, I., González-Eguino, M., Markandya, A. and Hazra, S. 2019. The socioeconomic future of deltas in a changing environment. Science of the Total Environment 648, 1284-1296.

Dunn, F.E., Nicholls, R.J., Darby, S.E., Cohen, S., Zarfl, C. and Fekete, B.M. 2018. Projections of historical and 21st century fluvial sediment delivery to the Ganges-Brahmaputra-Meghna, Mahanadi and Volta delta. Science of the Total Environment 642, 105-116.

Hossain, M.A.R., Ahmed, M., Ojea, E. and Fernandes, J.A. 2018. Impacts and responses to environmental change in coastal livelihoods of south-west Bangladesh. Science of the Total Enivronment 637-638, 954-970.

Hossain, M.A.R., Das, I., Genevier, L., Hazra, S., Rahman, M., Barange, M. and Fernandes, J.A. 2018. Biology and fisheries of Hilsa shad in Bay of Bengal. Science of the Total Environment 651(2), 1720-1734.

Janes, T., MacGrath, F., Macadam, I. and Jones, R. 2019. High-resolution climate projections for South Asia to inform climate impacts and adaptation studies in the Ganges-Brahmaputra-Meghna and Mahanadi deltas. Science of the Total Environment 650(1), 1499-1520.

Kebede, A.S., Nicholls, R.J., Allan, A., Arto, I., Cazcarro, I., Hill, C.T., Hutton, C.W., Kay, S., Lázár, A.N., Macadam, I., Fernandes, J.A., Palmer, M., Suckall, N., Tompkins, E.L., Vincent, K. and Whitehead, P.W., 2018. Applying the global RCP-SSP-SPA scenario framework at sub-national scale: A multi-scale and participatory scenario approach. Science of the Total Environment 635, 659-672.

Lauria, V., Das, I., Hazra, S., Cazcarro, I., Arto, I., Kay, S., Ofori-Danson, P., Ahmed, M., Hossain, A.R., Barange, M. and Fernandes, J.A. 2018. Importance of fisheries for food security across three climate change vulnerable deltas. Science of the Total Environment 640-641, 1566-1577.

Li, J., Whitehead, P.G., Appeaning-Addo, K., Amisigo, B., Macadam, I., Janes, T., Crossman, J., Nicholls, R.J., McCartney, M. and Rodda, H.J.E. 2018. Modeling future flows of the Volta River system: Impacts of climate change and socio-economic changes. Science of the Total Environment 637-638, 1069-1080.

Li, J., Whitehead, P.G., Rodda, H., Macadam, I. and Sarkar, S. 2018. Simulating climate change and socio-economic change impacts on flows and water quality in the Mahanadi river system, India. Science of the Total Environment 637-638, 907-917.

Mukhopadhyay, A., Ghosh, P., Chanda, A., Ghosh, A., Ghosh, S., Das, S. Ghosh, T. and Hazra, S. 2018. Threats to coastal communities of Mahanadi delta due to imminent consequences of erosion-Present and near future. Science of the Total Environment 637-638, 717-729.

Pathak, D., Whitehead, P.G., Futter, M.N. and Sinha, R. 2018. Water quality assessment and catchment-scale nutrient flux modeling in the Ramganga River Basin in north India: An application of INCA model. Science of the Total Environment 637-638, 201-215.

Rahman, M., Dustegir, M., Karim, R., Haque, A., Nicholls, R.J., Darby, S.E., Nakagawa, H., Hossain, M., Dunn, F.E. and Akter, M. 2018. Recent sediment flux to the Ganges-Brahmaputra-Meghna delta system. Science of the Total Environment 643, 1054-1064.

Suckall, N., Tompkins, E.L., Nicholls, R.J., Kebede, A.S., Lázár, A.N., Vincent, K., Allan, A., Chapman, A., Rahman, R., Ghosh, T., Hutton, C. and Mensah, A. 2018. A framework for identifying and selecting long term adaptation policy directions for deltas. Science of the Total Environment 633, 946-957.

Whitehead, P.G., Jin, L., Macadam, I., Janes, T., Sarkar, S., Rodda, H.J.E., Sinha, R. and Nicholls, R.J. 2018. Modelling impacts of climate change and socio-economic change on the Ganga, Brahmaputra, Meghna, Hooghly and Mahanadi river systems in India and Bangladesh. Science of the Total Environment 636, 1362-1372.

Whitehead, P., Bussi, G., Hossain, M.A., Dolk, M., Das, P., Comber, S., Peters, R., Charles, K.J., Hope, R., and Hossain, R. 2018. Restoring water quality in the polluted Turag-Tongi-Balu river system, Dhaka: Modelling nutrient and total coliform intervention strategies, Science of the Total Environment 633, 946-957.

The State of Food and Agriculture 2018

The State of Food and Agriculture 2018 Migration, agriculture and rural development


Migration is an expanding global reality which allows millions of people to seek new opportunities, but it also involves challenges for migrants and societies. Are there specific policy directions that governments should keep in mind to maximize the opportunities migration brings while minimizing its challenges? Can investments help make migration a voluntary choice and not a desperate need or a last resort? By looking at how internal and international migratory flows link to economic development, demographic change, and natural-resource pressure, The State of Food and Agriculture 2018, explores answers to these questions. The report also provides a thorough analysis of the factors which contribute to migration decisions and recommends tailored policy and investment responses to make migration work for all. We invite you to download the report, which is available in all UN languages.

Book Presented to Dr Nazmul Haq

William Powrie (Dean of Faculty of Engineering and the Environment, University of Southampton) presents a copy of the new book “Ecosystem Services for Well-Being in Deltas: Integrated Analysis for Policy Analysis” to Dr. Nazmul Haq (University of Southampton) to whom the book is dedicated. Nazmul greatly facilitated this research in its early days and helped to build a strong consortium that continues to contribute to fundamental research on the future of the delta that also informs policy in terms of the Bangladesh Delta Plan 2100 and related strategic planning and development of the country.

New book published “Ecosystem services for well-being in deltas. Integrated assessment for policy analysis”

A new book “Ecosystem services for well-being in deltas. Integrated assessment for policy analysis” has just been published open access by Springer. The book is an output of a predecessor project to DECCMA, ESPA Deltas. Chapters include analysis of ecosystem trends and projected futures under climate change, governance analysis, poverty and social-ecological systems analysis, and the linkages between poverty and ecosystem services in the Ganges-Brahmaputra-Meghna delta in Bangladesh.

Contributors include DECCMA PI Robert Nicholls, Co-PIs Craig Hutton, Stephen Darby, Andrew Allan, Neil Adger, Susan Kay, Sugata Hazra, Tuhin Ghosh, Munsur Rahman and Masfiqus Salehin, as well as DECCMA researchers Helen Adams, Anisul Haque, Paul Whitehead, Sally Brown, Shahjahan Mondal, Fiifi Amoako Johnson and Attila N. Lázár.

Call for proposals: 6th International Climate Change and Population Conference on Africa in Accra, Ghana

DECCMA Ghana lead institution, the Regional Institute for Population Studies at the University of Ghana, will host the 6th International Climate Change and Population Conference on Africa. The conference will take place in Accra from 23-25th July 2018 with the theme “The future we do not want”. Abstracts will be accepted in three areas namely: (i) Policy and Practice, (ii) Development & Intervention Projects, and (iii) Basic and Applied Sciences, across relevant disciplines in the Humanities, Population Sciences, Health Sciences, Basic & Applied Sciences, and the Engineering & GeoSpatial Sciences, and should be submitted by 18th May.

Sub-themes that will be addressed during the conference include:

  1. Population – climate nexus
  2. Population health and climate change
  3. Climate change and energy
  4. Coastal zones and green growth
  5. Cities and climate change
  6. Climate finance and investment
  7. Climate change negotiations and diplomacy
  8. Adaptation and mitigation
  9. Food security and agrarian / rural communities
  10. Climate change and poverty
  11. Sustainable development goals
  12. Water resources management

“An environment for wellbeing: Pathways out of poverty”-learning from the Ecosystem Services for Poverty Alleviation programme

Ecosystem Services for Poverty Alleviation (ESPA) is a global interdisciplinary research programme that began in 2009 with the aim of giving decision-makers and natural resource users the evidence they need to address the challenges of sustainable ecosystem management and poverty reduction. The programme was developed by the UK government in response to the findings of the 2005 Millennium Ecosystem Assessment that substantial gains in human well-being in recent decades have been achieved at the expense of high and often irreversible levels of ecosystem degradation.

This short film highlights some of ESPA’s findings on the role of ecosystem services in diversifying livelihood options for vulnerable people, the contribution of sustainably managed ecosystem services to national wealth (and related poverty reduction), and insights into how to better manage ecosystems to deliver sustainable, green and inclusive growth. It features insights from ESPA Deltas and ECOLIMITS, looking at the ecological limits of poverty alleviation focusing on smallholder coffee farmers in Ethiopia, and cocoa farmers in Ghana.