By Alexander Chapman, University of Southampton
Professor Shamsul Alam, Senior Secretary of the General Economics Division (GED), Government of Bangladesh visited the University of Southampton (24-25 August 2017) 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 GED 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 & President, Professor Sir Christopher Snowden, Prof Alam emphasised the importance of designing interventions which give consideration to the complexities of the social-ecological system of the Ganges-Brahmaputra-Meghna Delta (GBM). In the low-lying GBM, where interactions with upstream developments, flooding and storm surges, and rural livelihoods are constantly changing actions can often have detrimental effects if not systemically analysed. Through three ongoing multi-million pound research projects 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, Principle Investigator of the ESPA Deltas project, reported on our progress evaluating two of GED’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. Looking forward, the DECCMA project, which has also placed great emphasis on stakeholder engagement, hopes to provide insight into different migration and adaptation policy trade-offs 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 projects’ legacies. In October Southampton will host a further representative from GED, 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 GED, who have strong ambitions for poverty reduction and livelihood improvement in Bangladesh. The team spent a productive afternoon with Ken de Souza of DFID discussing how to build legacy for the current work which, it is hoped, is only a test case to demonstrate what is possible with collaboration on integrated systems research projects.
It was a 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. 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 (which, with a bit of funding luck, still has a good few years left in it!).