The Project

Social Resilience in the Sundarbans Delta: Eliciting Needs-based Grassroots Action through Cross-Group Engagement (ENGAGE)

Why this project

The inhabitants of the tidally active lower deltaic plain of the Ganges-Brahmaputra-Meghna basin adjacent to the Sundarbans Mangrove Forest in India and Bangladesh are highly exposed to multiple risks, including from cyclones, salinization, pandemics, and socioeconomic marginalization. While exposure to these hazards has built local resilience and relevant knowledge to interact within this particular social-ecological system, climate change and state interventions represent ongoing challenges for local communities.

Infograph 1: Project Time Line

Project relevance

While the conventional approach of climate change adaptation in the Sundarbans relies on top-down technical solutions and the managed relocation of communities, our ‘living lab’ experimentations build on existing situated adaptive practices with the goals to enhance social resilience, reduce multiple risks and provide alternatives to outmigration.

Infograph 2: Single disaster approach versus social resilience framework

Objectives of the project

To understand plural accounts and interpretations of the Sundarbans’ ‘riskscape’ produced by state and non-governmental actors and diverse members of the local communities. It seeks to support situated adaptive practices that enhance social resilience through experiments in inland fishing and integrated farming based on transdisciplinary engagement across the political boundaries of the Sundarbans.

Infograph 3: From climate risks to riskscapes

The project aims

  • to explore, understand and map climate risks and disaster impacts on the Sundarbans, accommodating plural accounts of the state, NGOs and the island communities, towards
  • stimulating situated adaptive mechanisms to harness social resilience in and of the delta, through
  • trans-disciplinary engagement to craft high impact pathways across (post)development interventions at the ground level, unleashing
  • cross-learning possibilities from bilateral exchanges across transboundary Sundarbans

Infograph 4: Knowledge coproduction during experimentation phase

The major research questions

  • Why the Sundarbans needs to be co-perceived as ‘riskscapes’ accommodating plural understandings of climate risks that entails and accommodates the ‘multiple disruptive risks’ perspective over the ‘single disaster’ approach?
  • How disaster risk reduction in the delta awaits co-design and co-implementation of wide spectrum of situated adaptive practices evolved across time and space and anchored in lived realties and cultural belief systems of the delta?
  • How social resilience can be up-scaled through transdisciplinary knowledge coproduction and implementation strategies with immediate, intermediate and long-term, high impact solutions along interactive adaptive (transboundary) governance?

Infograph 5: Co-envisioning transformative change through interactive adaptive transboundary governance

Systemic approach and methodology

Our systemic approach includes a two-step methodology of

  • historical ethno-graphic explorations and
  • pilot experimentations (inland fish farming and integrated farming) in the translocal project sites, co-engaging and eliciting multiagency with sustained implications for transboundary Sundarbans.
ENGAGE will apply an array of overlapping, multi-modal, participatory and interactive methods to accomplish the two-step methodology. Historical approaches (archival reading and analyses, oral history techniques, memory mapping exercises) will be used to qualitatively explore climate risks and community livelihoods responses in the delta and the specific study area. Participatory GIS and transect walks will be conducted to generate local unit scale information on existing resource base and socio-ecological infrastructures.

Ethnographies along more conventional (focus group discussions, case studies, key informant interviews, etc.) and participatory (on-site informal conversations, multi stakeholders engagement field workshops, participatory systems mapping, etc.) innovative and visual methods (case stories, ethno-visual narratives through photo essays, participatory videography, etc.) will enable project teams to map and document situated adaptive strategies, locating array of institutional arrangements-adjustments and socio-cultural traditions shaping these practices, transforming over times.

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