MOOC: Water, Society And Sustainability

MOOC: Water, Society And Sustainability

ENGAGE4Sundarbans team is delighted to invite you to join the MOOC course “Water, Society and Sustainability”.

This course is led and designed by our Indian PI, Jenia Mukherjee. 
Join the course for heated discussions and exchanges!
You can enrol and register by accessing
The last date of enrollment is August 21, 2023.
See you all in the forum and during the live session.


The global water scenario is beset by multiple challenges: water availability, severe inequity to water access and entitlements across social and spatial lines, frequent floods and droughts, disputes over corporate control of limited water resources, etc. The world appears to be on track to halve the number of people without access to safe clean water. However, in the urban Global South, this success masks regional and local inequalities and a process of urbanization without infrastructure, which is particularly acute in the growing peripheries of existing cities. Interestingly enough, lessons can be learnt from small-scale community water conservation practices and localized needs-driven initiatives. Within this context, it is important to understand and address water beyond the physical and technical attributes and explore the complex and cyclical processes through which water shapes, and, is in turn shaped by society. The course is located at the intersections across water, technology, science and society towards sustainable future. It combines fundamental theoretical, methodological approaches and empirical case studies to introduce and familiarize students with water-society relationship: the contemporary challenges and prospective potentials.

INTENDED AUDIENCE: Located at the intersections across science, society, technology and sustainability, the course will be highly relevant for students from different disciplinary backgrounds including agriculture,
water resource engineering, environmental sciences, rural development, civil engineering, geology, humanities and social sciences.
INDUSTRY SUPPORT: Bengal National Chamber of Commerce and Industry. Other companies’ interests (some of which have approached the instructor) can be explored.

Course layout

Week 1:
1. Setting the Context
2. Beyond Hydrology
3. Socio Hydrology
4. Political Ecology of Water
5. Hydrosocial
Week 2:
6. Critical Physical Geography
7. The South Asian Context
8. Water Harvesting and Water Use Techniques in Ancient India 1
9. Water Harvesting and Water Use Techniques in Ancient India 2
10. Water Harvesting and Water Use Techniques in Ancient India 3
Week 3: 
11. Water Technology in Medieval India 1
12. Water Technology in Medieval India 2
13.‘Colonial Hydrology’
14. Dams and Development in Contemporary India
15. The Farakka Barrage Project: Historical and Technical Details
Week 4: 
16. The Farakka Barrage Project: Socio-environmental Implications
17. Urban Waters: Historical and Political Ecological Perspectives
18. Transforming Trajectories of Blue Infrastructures of Kolkata
19. Peri-urban Water Justice in the Global South
20. Discussion and Conclusion

Books and references

  1. Acharya A (2015) The cultural politics of waterscapes. In: Bryant RL (ed) The International Handbook of Political Ecology. Cheltenham, UK ; Northampton, MA, USA: Edward Elgar Publishing, pp.373–386.
  2. Allen A, Hofmann P, Mukherjee J and Walnycki A (2017) Water trajectories through non-networked infrastructure: insights from peri-urban Dar es Salaam, Cochabamba and Kolkata. Urban Research & Practice 10(1):22–42.
  3. Bakker K (2003) Archipelagos and networks: urbanization and water privatization in the South. The Geographical Journal 169(4): 328–341.
  4. Bouleau G (2014) The co-production of science and waterscapes: The case of the Seine and the Rhône Rivers, France. Geoforum 57: 248–257.
  5. Budds J, Linton J and McDonnell R (2014) The hydrosocial cycle. Geoforum 57: 167–169.
  6. Budds J (2009) Contested H2O: Science, policy and politics in water resources management in Chile. Geoforum 40(3): 418–430.
  7. D’Souza, R (2006) Water in British India: The Making of a ‘Colonial Hydrology. History Compass 4/4: 621-28.
  8. D’Souza R (2009) River as resource and land to own: the great hydraulic transition in Eastern India. In: Conference on Asian environments shaping the world: conceptions of nature and environmental practices, 19-21 March, 2009, National University of Singapore, Singapore.
  9. Mukherjee J (2018) From hydrology to hydrosocial: historiography of waters in India. In: J. Caradonna (ed.), Routledge Handbook of the History of Sustainability (UK: Routledge).
  10. Klingensmith D (2007) One valley and a thousand: dams, nationalism, and development. New Delhi: Oxford University Press.
  11. Swyngedouw E (2009) The political economy and political ecology of the hydro-Social Cycle. Journal of Contemporary Water Research & Education 142(1): 56–60.

Project envisioning

Project envisioning

The discussion on ‘envisioning the project’ was centred on a few points – i) planning for local inceptions, ii) designing research methodology, and iii) research management (data sharing and data management). The Indian team targeted to ensure greater involvement of government officials during the subsequent phase of the project. The methodology section was designed by following an Archival to Ethnographic Exploration (A2E) approach whereas the archival part involves the consultation of the mainstream archive and oral history to have a better understanding of the Sundarbans as a ‘risk scope’. On primary data sources colonial archives (survey reports, district gazetteers, etc.) and revenue records would be consulted. The targeted timeline for the same is from July to November 2023. The country partners also felt the requirement of developing land use and land cover maps of both the study sites. Also, the first six months have been aimed to be invested in a systemic literature (both the academic and grey literature) review to capture many aspects of risks with the social-ecological system of Sundarbans. Based on these, the country teams would design their ethnographic field explorations. The country partners perceived that the targeted interventions must be performed by ensuring the effective participation all the stakeholders in a synergy of local activity, global connectivity, and academic responsibility. As most of the colonial data from the undivided Sundarbans are available at the West Bengal State Archive and other Archives in India, it is decided that the Indian team will take the lead in the archival front.

Figure 9. Project envisioning discussion at Sajida Foundation’s office

The second phase of the ‘Envisioning’ meeting was organized at the ULAB after having fresh insights from the exposure field trip to the Bangladesh Sundarbans. The teams aimed to work on the key themes of 1. experiments, 2. key Issues, 3. risks, 4. social resilience and 5. key indicators from both the Sundarbans. Previously it had been decided to exchange the data and ethnographic research tools like PPI (Probability Possibility Index) and SVA (Social Vulnerability Analysis) as employed by the Bangladeshi implementation partner Sajida Foundation. Later they decided to have an online exchange on the same which has been scheduled on July 10, 2023. It will be instrumental for the country teams (especially India) to design their desirable set of questionnaires which would cover a variety of themes. On the Indian front, it is chalked out to cover almost 450 households in terms of a questionnaire survey at Kumirmari village by mid-September with the joint involvement of the SJSM (Sundarban Jana Sramajibi Manch) and the IIT KGP team.

Figure 10. Project envisioning discussion at ULAB

The meeting also attempted to trace the desirable avenues to posit the project on the global map of big projects. The partners decided to showcase the insights through story narratives and photo essays. The partners also aimed to put a close eye on the policy ambit, especially in terms of Climate Action Plans both at the national and state level along with the analysis of the MoU on transboundary Sundarbans. Also, targets are fixed on analyzing the policy reports on governance, land use policy, and the political economy of the Sundarbans to come up with a policy review by January to March 2024. The country teams also discussed the data-sharing techniques and resource management in subsequent phases of the project.

Field Visit in Bangladesh

Field Visit in Bangladesh

An exposure to the site

Field visit from the 13th to the 15th of June 2023

The teams were moving over concrete roads that were laid up between large water bodies used for saline water shrimp aquaculture, or gher as it is known locally.

“This area was full of vegetation even during our early youths. We witnessed canopies. After having recurrent saline water intrusion this barren land is left with bare stems of dead trees and marks of salt on the infertile lands.”

Jarina Bibi explained during a FGD (Focus Group Discussion) that was conducted in a courtyard, behind a local mosque. It was a humid summer afternoon. While everyone was eagerly waiting for the rains to come, the local women were told that they are ‘habituated’ to the annual cyclones. Cyclone is not a big deal to them and even this year, they are literally waiting for the same to occur and fill up the annual quota. They do not consider cyclones the dominant risk but the embankment which the government hardly pays any attention to. This makes the residents stay underwater for more than a year. Undoubtedly, Aila (2009) was the single most powerful disaster but that made no change in terms of governmentality. The area gets flooded every 15 days when it is exposed to a new moon or full moon high tide, leading to water intrusion into the farmlands and local ponds. The local deep tube well is the only source of drinking water. After cyclone Amphan (2020), the area encountered one and a half years of waterlogging due to the already-breached embankment. They just constructed platforms inside their rooms and stayed almost more than weeks until the water level dropped down. They mentioned that Aila taught them that an elevated homestead can only save them from gushing floodwater. That they tried to implement it in their own way amid the scarcity of resources. Many people took shelter on the concrete platform located at higher levels. Moreover, there were Covid-19 protocols during the Amphan with physical distancing appearing as one of the major affronts to collectively manage immediate requirements. They had to simply depend on external relief which was not sufficient and irregular. There was an acute lack of access to drinking water and sanitation facilities, especially for women.

Figure 8. Focus Group Discussion with local women at Assasuni

Most of the people from Protapnagar possess homestead only. They severely lack land resources to conduct farming. Water bodies are too small. On top of that, the issue of flood governance and embankment management is a major concern for the inhabitants as it triggers other multiple interconnected risks encompassing frequent water logging, saline water intrusion, and livelihood problems of the inhabitants. To embrace inland fishing as an adaptation measure, they need to fix the embankment issue first. People are keen to adopt bag farming as they are trained by Sajida Foundation. Also, they are interested in rearing poultry birds. Many of them urged to be facilitated with e-rickshaw or toto as it might fetch them at least a decent income as this is the most common mode of transportation.

When they were asked if they wish to leave a place that is full of livelihood uncertainties, they replied that it is their birthplace – how can they leave? Also, one of the women interlocutors, Monoara Begum referred to an anecdote of weather extremities in the area. She explained that a boy from their neighbourhood with a stable job in Dhaka returned to his native place during Amphan to support his former neighbours because he felt his parents were cremated here and thus, he felt obligated to do something for his native place during the adversaries. On the other side, Arjuna Bibi has no one in her family and she is involved with daily waged work in another island. Arjuna stated that she has ample scope for leaving the terrain but her hereditary attachment prevents her from even thinking about the same.



Local Inception meeting

Local Inception meeting

Protapnagar Union, Assasuni Subdistrict, Satkhira District, Khulna Division, Bangladesh – 15th of June 2023

Meeting with the government officials

Assasuni is the study site for the Bangladesh counterpart of the project. Before visiting the field site the entire project team had a meeting with the government officials – the Assistant Commissioner of Land, Upazila Fisheries Officer, Chief Medical Officer (Veterinary), Upazila Livestock Officer, Upazila Project Implementation Officer, and the Upazila Chairman from the ruling political party. The PIs of the three country teams introduced the project before the government officials along with eliciting the relevance of the project in the current scenario. PIs, while touching upon the project’s objectives, highlighted the importance of the ‘ENGAGE’ framework as adopted by the project in an inclusive sense. They shed light upon crafting an effective cross-sectoral engagement and cross-group networks along different layers of stakeholdership.

Figure 6. Government officials greet on behalf of the country teams

The implementing partners from both countries (Sajida Foundation from Bangladesh and Sundarban Jana Sramajibi Manch from India) unpacked their decade-long activities. They explained how they are placing themselves in alignment with the project objectives. The government officials remarked on the ecological value and the climate vulnerability of Sundarbans. Simultaneously, they discussed the live and livelihood conditions of the community within the ambit of risks.

Figure 7. Meet-up with government personnel at Assasuni

National Inception Meeting – Dhaka

National Inception Meeting – Dhaka

En route to the ENGAGE-SOR4D – inception workshop at Dhaka, Bangladesh

The ENGAGE-SOR4D (Solution-oriented Research for Development) inception workshop was organized in Dhaka, Bangladesh from June 12 to June 15, 2023. It formally marked the kick-start of the project by presenting the larger transdisciplinary research objectives and work agendas to a diverse set of actors including government officials, bureaucrats, grassroots workers, scientists and researchers, NGOs, and think tanks, ‘engaged’ in various ways with the Sundarbans region. As the project aims to ‘Elicit Needs-based Grassroots Action through Cross-Group Engagement (ENGAGE)’ towards fostering social resilience in transboundary Sundarbans, the inception workshop attempted to facilitate multimodal engagement be among the country partners through consistent exchanges or between different stakeholders crafting plurilogue. It further reaches out to a wider audience and transdisciplinary consortiums by successfully launching the project website ENGAGE4Sundarbans ( The workshop was arranged by the partner representatives from the University of Liberal Arts Bangladesh (Samiya Selim as co-investigator) and their outreach and implementation partner Sajida Foundation (Bangladesh) in an effort to start off the project along with the collaborators from the University of Lausanne, Switzerland, (René Véron as the principal investigator) and Indian Institute of Technology Kharagpur (Jenia Mukherjee as co-investigator and Tapas Mandal as the Indian outreach and implementation partner from the Sundarban Jana Sramajibi Mancha).

Figure 1. The country teams along with ULAB VC, Mr. Saber Hossain Chowdhury Member of the National Parliament, Bangladesh, and Corinne Henchoz Pignani, deputy head of cooperation, Embassy of Switzerland in Bangladesh

The workshop set the tone of the project inception in tune with the ‘ENGAGE’ framework. The first part of the workshop elicited the existing and perceived aspects of cross-group involvements in the context of climate-sensitive transboundary Sundarbans. The VC of the University of Liberal Arts Bangladesh (ULAB) highlighted the role of academia (in terms of Bangladeshi Universities and the Centre for Sustainable Development, ULAB) while addressing the possibilities for reciprocal dialogue between science and policy, and scopes of co-involvement of actors, networks, and sectors to resolve the imminent threats in the delta. Corinne Henchoz Pignani, the deputy head of cooperation, Embassy of Switzerland in Bangladesh, advocated for strengthening research collaborations and for translating data into development through meaningful partnerships across scales. Noting the importance of Sundarbans, she put emphasis on the term ‘engagement’ to reflect on the upcoming agendas of the embassy in relation to the sustainability of the deltaic livelihoods. Foregrounding their long-term partnership goal (85 years) with Bangladesh, Corinne Henchoz Pignani stressed upon different facets of engagement within cross-country organizations aligning to the relevant existing (UN Missions, G7, Paris Agreement) and future schemes (including Mujib Climate Prosperity Plan, Smart Bangladesh) for Sundarbans. Muhymin Chowdhury, Director, Impact Investments, Partnerships and Communication, SAJIDA Foundation Bangladesh on his note, addressed SAJIDA’s three-decade-long activities for ‘influencing’ (through research), ‘building’ (scalable solutions through activities forging resilience), and ‘mobilizing’ (green initiatives through involving) towards serving the vulnerable communities. He said that the significance of ENGAGE needs to be established through the SOR4D project. He subsequently explained how intensely the project could be the best fit in harnessing multi-sectoral involvement through multi-disciplinary research to fulfil the objective of community empowerment under the larger premise of their climate change programs in the Sundarbans.

Figure 2. Three country teams along with the outreach and implementation partners

In the next session three country PIs (Project Investigators) reflected on the orientation of the project. While the Indian PI Prof. Jenia Mukherjee focused on how a single disaster management approach fails to address the concern, apprehension, and needs of the local communities in the transboundary, the Swiss PI Prof. René Veron highlighted the importance of transdisciplinarity in the context of multiple risks arising out of cyclones, salinization, human-tiger conflict, protected area approach, and daily livelihood challenges. They resonated on how top-down measures like ‘managed retreat’ fail to fortify the community imagination through a linear DRR (Disaster Risk Reduction) approach in the future where the notion of ‘staying’ gains more significance. While presenting the case study of Indian pilot experimentation on inland fishing (implementing co-produced knowledge through involving multiple stakeholders’ engagement), Jenia Mukherjee pointed out how the needs-driven approaches could be practical for fostering social resilience in the vulnerable delta. From the Bangladesh counterparts, Samiya Selim talked about the study site by underlining the ways in which marginal communities encounter climate change-induced hazards. She brought to the fore the scope of integrated farming practices toward supporting the vulnerable communities of integrated Sundarbans.

Mr. Saber Hossain Chowdhury, a Member of Parliament, attended the session from the government level. He reflected upon the critical role of the transboundary Sundarbans as an ecological unit in maintaining ecological balance. He presented the importance of inter-governmental engagement in terms of guaranteeing the survival and sustenance of the region. Referring to the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU, 2011), signed by the two countries (India and Bangladesh) for the transboundary Sundarbans, Mr. Chowdhury pointed to the effective implementation of the same through harnessing all the possible avenues mooting out of a government-to-government collaboration that necessarily involves multidisciplinary research from both the countries. He emphasised the need to put the research’s findings into practice so that they might improve the community’s way of life and ensure sustainability across a wider area. He urged not to look at sustainability as an afterthought but to posit the same at the core of our work. Following then, Mr. Chowdhury unveiled the project website ENGAGE4Sundarbans in the presence of all the partner organizations, collaborators and audience. The session concluded with a question-and-answer session that took place between the country teams and dignitaries representing a variety of actors, networks, and sectors. Topics covered ranged from the technical details on integrated farming and inland fishing to collective approaches fostering social resilience.

Figure 3. The website launching by Mr. Saber Hossain Chowdhury Member of the National Parliament, Bangladesh

Figure 4. Flyer of the event