Human costs of shrinking deltas: Adaptation pathways of vulnerable groups to sea-level rise in three Asian deltas

Short description of the project and objectives and deliverables

Vulnerability to sea-level rise and other climate stressors is becoming more unequal. Many low-income communities live in areas of deltas that are most vulnerable areas to floods, such as low-lying areas near waterways. Concurrently, delta regions are undergoing shifts in population structure, due to loss of livelihoods and out-migration of younger men and women often resulting in a greater share of older adults in the population.

This research project studied the adaptation pathways to sea-level rise, land subsidence and other climate stressors, which vulnerable residents created or are part of, in deltas or coastal regions in three countries in Asia. We conducted research in Taiwan (Dongshi Township, Chiayi county), India (Sundarban Delta) and Thailand (Chao Phraya Delta) to understand how adaptation is a social process and in what way adaptation pathways are linked to broader socio-economic, historical and cultural factors, including power structures, social hierarchies, processes of marginalization, life trajectories, and political economy. We particularly considered the wide diversity of cultural and social processes that shaped the ways in which adaptation pathways emerged. Through conducting qualitative researching among more than 60 households, we examined the role of everyday choices, constraints and strategies, and the ways in which local residents affect or build pathways. We adopted a cultural lens to adaptation pathways as it sheds light on differential vulnerability and the processes that enable or hinder adaptation.

The project deliverables are as follows: (1) theoretical articles which further developed and outlined our theoretical framework and philosophy, (2) data collection activities in the study sitesin India, Taiwan and Thailand, (3) a research proposal, and (4) an international symposium on climate adaptation. The international online symposium on Climate change, environmental migration, and land subsidence in the Mekong Delta, and other Asian Deltas was organized on 26 Nov 2021. The main objective of this online symposium is to understand the complicated relationship between climate change, human mobilities, transboundary water governance and land subsidence in the Mekong Delta of Vietnam and other Asian deltas. One session of this symposium is focused at presenting preliminary findings of this seed grant.

Local farmer working on his field in Sundarban Delta
Local farmer working on his field in Sundarban Delta.

Participating faculties

  • Department of Human Geography and Spatial Planning, Faculty of Geosciences, Utrecht University, The Netherlands, Professor Ajay Bailey
  • Department of Cultural Anthropology, Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences, Utrecht University, The Netherlands, Dr David Henig

List of external partners

  • Department of Geography, National Taiwan Normal University, Taiwan, Dr Mucahid Mustafa Bayrak
  • School of Law and Government, Dublin City University, Ireland, Dr Danny Marks
  • Transdisciplinary Center for Qualitative Methods, Manipal Academy of Higher Education, India, Dr Selim Jahangir

Link to websites/publications (if applicable)

Contact persons