Fieldtrip to the Indian Bengal delta

by Sumana Banerjee

On March 7th 2020, three DECCMA colleagues-Katharine Vincent, Tuhin Ghosh and Sumana Banerjee-embarked on a visit to the Indian Sundarban Delta. This activity was undertaken as a scoping visit for a potential small project which aims to look into the gender-responsive adaptation in the delta.

River transport is essential for the delta population

The team tested some key findings on adaptation which emerged from the household surveys undertaken in DECCMA and learnt about people’s development aspirations, and how they can be made resilient in the context of a changing climate.

Focus groups (held separately with women and men) in two villages of two different islands and key informant interviews with the local governance and practitioners helped in adding richness and depth to explain the quantitative data obtained through DECCMA’s household survey. They also exposed some gaps which would have otherwise been filled in with external (false) assumptions.

As well as giving the research team the opportunity to validate research findings, they also helped in shaping ways of working forward in the project. The team took the opportunity to learn from people how they would like to receive messages relating to climate adaptation based on findings from DECCMA.

Needless to say, like any other good fieldtrip, this was an enriching experience and the team looks forward to get back to the field again to share the findings and design messages to appropriately deliver to the knowledge users to enable gender-sensitive adaptation.

New book from DECCMA sister project ESPA Deltas

A new open access book “Integrated Assessment for the Bangladesh Delta Plan 2100: Analysis of selected interventions“, edited by Munsur Rahman, Robert Nicholls, Susan Hanson, Mashfiqus Salehin and Shamsul Alam has just been published.

The book reports analysis undertaken as part of the ESPA Deltas project. Many of the project’s findings are integrated into the Delta Dynamic Integrated Emulator Model (ΔDIEM), which is designed to analyse the present and future of the delta in a policy relevant way in order to benefit the ecosystems, livelihoods and people of the Ganges-Brahmaputra-Meghna delta.

A pilot application of ΔDIEM was trialed based on selected proposals in the BDP 2100, in partnership with the Bangladesh Planning Commission, to assess selected development options being considered as part of the BDP 2100. The new polders in the south central district appear most beneficial both in terms of enhancing incomes and removing people from poverty. However, trade-offs with neighbouring regions due to displaced flooding need to be evaluated and suitable compensatory measures undertaken. The results also show that good maintenance of the existing polder embankments across the region is likely to maintain agriculture and associated livelihoods over the next few decades.

“Deltas in the Anthropocene” New open access book based on DECCMA findings

Deltas in the Anthropocene

The book “Deltas in the Anthropocene”, edited by Robert J. Nicholls, W. Neil Adger, Craig W. Hutton and Susan E. Hanson has now been published by Palgrave Macmillan. The book is open access, and the entirety of the contents can be downloaded at no cost.

The book’s 11 chapters cover biophysical characteristics, evolution, human use and management of deltas in Africa and Asia.

Individual chapters are as follows:

Delta Challenges and Trade-Offs from the Holocene to the Anthropocene Robert J. Nicholls, W. Neil Adger, Craig W. Hutton, Susan E. Hanson Pages 1-22 

Ganges-Brahmaputra-Meghna Delta, Bangladesh and India: A Transnational Mega-Delta Md. Munsur Rahman, Tuhin Ghosh, Mashfiqus Salehin, Amit Ghosh, Anisul Haque, Mohammed Abed Hossain et al. Pages 23-51

The Mahanadi Delta: A Rapidly Developing Delta in India Sugata Hazra, Shouvik Das, Amit Ghosh, Pokkuluri Venkat Raju, Amrita Patel Pages 53-77

The Volta Delta, Ghana: Challenges in an African Setting Samuel Nii Ardey Codjoe, Kwasi Appeaning Addo, Cynthia Addoquaye Tagoe, Benjamin Kofi Nyarko, Francisca Martey, Winfred A. Nelson et al. Pages 79-102

Fluvial Sediment Supply and Relative Sea-Level Rise Stephen E. Darby, Kwasi Appeaning Addo, Sugata Hazra, Md. Munsur Rahman, Robert J. Nicholls Pages 103-126

Hotspots of Present and Future Risk Within Deltas: Hazards, Exposure and Vulnerability Chris Hill, Frances Dunn, Anisul Haque, Fiifi Amoako-Johnson, Robert J. Nicholls, Pokkuluri Venkat Raju et al. Pages 127-151

Where People Live and Move in Deltas Ricardo Safra de Campos, Samuel Nii Ardey Codjoe, W. Neil Adger, Colette Mortreux, Sugata Hazra, Tasneem Siddiqui et al. Pages 153-177

Delta Economics and Sustainability Iñaki Arto, Ignacio Cazcarro, Anil Markandya, Somnath Hazra, Rabindra N. Bhattacharya, Prince Osei-Wusu Adjei Pages 179-200

Adapting to Change: People and Policies Emma L. Tompkins, Katharine Vincent, Natalie Suckall, Rezaur Rahman, Tuhin Ghosh, Adelina Mensah et al. Pages 201-222

Choices: Future Trade-Offs and Plausible Pathways Attila N. Lázár, Susan E. Hanson, Robert J. Nicholls, Andrew Allan, Craig W. Hutton, Mashfiqus Salehin et al. Pages 223-245

Sustainable Deltas in the Anthropocene Robert J. Nicholls, W. Neil Adger, Craig W. Hutton, Susan E. Hanson, Attila N. Lázár, Katharine Vincent et al. Pages 247-279

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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New DECCMA brief “Climate change and the economic future of deltas in Africa and Asia”

The DECCMA Economics team have released a new policy brief “Climate change and the economic future of deltas in Africa and Asia“.  The policy brief is led by the team from the Basque Centre for Climate Change, and summarises some of the key findings on the current and future economic status of deltas, taking into account climate change, and distills information from papers published in the peer-reviewed literature (including “The socioeconomic future of deltas in a changing environment” by Arto et al).

The brief highlights how climate change has the potential to reduce GDP per capita by 8.5-14.5% in the deltas, through impacts on infrastructure, agriculture and fisheries. Traditional adaptation options, such as embankments and protection and restoration of mangroves, could only reduce these effects by up to 40-50%, thus minimising but not ruling out negative impacts.

DECCMA Ghana success with proposal “Empowering women and transforming gender relations in the Volta delta, Ghana”

The DECCMA Ghana team has been successful in its proposal “Empowering women and transforming gender relations in the Volta delta, Ghana”.  The project will bring together researchers with local and national policy-makers, a leading Ghanaian advocacy NGO, and traditional leaders to build networks and share research findings with the aim of co-producing knowledge that leads to women’s empowerment and transformation of gender relations in Sogakope and Keta in the Volta delta.  In-keeping with the CDKN aim “From knowledge to action in African countries”, the project aims to take forward findings from DECCMA that women in the delta have high labour burdens due to out-migration of men, combined with a land tenure system that does not provide security of tenure.

Houses are submerged by sand in Keta (photo: Katharine Vincent)

The project team, comprising representatives of the University of Ghana, ProLink Ghana, Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection, Keta Municipality, Hlevie Global Women, the local traditional leadership, and Kulima Integrated Development Solutions will attend a Knowledge Accelerator Lab facilitated by CDKN in April in order to develop a full proposal.

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.

DECCMA findings presented to Environment and Natural Resource Sector Working Group in Ghana

This week Professor Kwasi Appeaning-Addo, deputy PI of DECCMA Ghana and now Director of the Institute for Environment and Sanitation Studies at the University of Ghana, will be presenting key findings on climate change, migration and adaptation in the Volta delta to a meeting of development partners within the Environment and Natural Resources Sector Working Group. The presentation will provide an opportunity to highlight complementarities and where DECCMA research findings can inform adaptation programming in Ghana.