Beyond the Dams: Linking Rural Smallholder Soil and Water Management Practices in Tropical Deltas to Sea Level Rise Vulnerability
Tuesday, 16 December 2014: 2:40 PM
The increased vulnerability of deltaic communities to coastal flooding as a result of upstream engineering has been acknowledged for decades. What has received less attention is the sensitivity of deltas to the interactions of river basin modifications and cultivation and irrigation in their coastal regions, particularly in tropical deltas. Embanking, tilling, and crop or stock choice all affect the movement of sediment and water on deltas. Combined with reduced river and sediment discharge, soil and water management practices in coastal areas may in fact exacerbate the risk of tidal flooding, erosion of arable land, and salinization of soils and groundwater associated with sea level rise. Thus exists a cruel irony to smallholder subsistence farmers whose priorities are food, water and economic security, rather than sustainability of the regional environment. Such issues challenge disciplinary approaches and require integrated social-biophysical models able to understand and diagnose these complex relationships. The complementary Institutional Analysis and Development and SocioEcological Systems frameworks are applied to the southwestern Bengal Delta (Bangladesh). The method helps to define the relevant social and physical units operating on the common pool of environmental resources, those of climate, water and sediment. The conceptual frameworks are designed to inform development of a nested geospatial analysis and a dynamic coupled model to identify the social-biophysical feedbacks associated with smallholder soil and water management practices, coastal dynamics, and climate vulnerability in rural Bangladesh. Our presentation will discuss components of the conceptual frameworks and will introduce a bi-directional pilot study designed for obtaining and disseminating information about environmental change to farmers in southwest Bangladesh with potential application to rural farming communities in other tropical deltas.